The Stranger

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The Stranger Book 2, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Now back in prison, Meursault has three times refused a visit from the chaplain. Meursault is focused only on "escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there's any way out of the inevitable." He has filed for appeal. He's been moved to a new cell from which he can no longer see the ocean, only the sky. He regrets not having "paid enough attention" to executions as he then might have known a case where "chance and luck" had intervened to stop "unrelenting calculation." Even knowing only one such case would, he thinks, be enough: "my heart would have taken over from there."
The death sentence has, ironically, snapped Meursault out of lifelong indifference. He is focused and goal-oriented, even ambitious. He regrets his past apathy and disinterest. He acknowledges his "heart." The view from his cell window reiterates his imminent death: before his sentence, Meursault's cell window held a view of Earth (the sea); post-sentence, his cell window only shows the sky.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
In spite of Meursault's "willingness to understand, I just couldn't accept such arrogant certainty." He finds the certainty of the verdict "ridiculously out of proportion" with the arbitrary circumstances and ordinary humans ("men who change their underwear") that led to it. Still, Meursault admits that since it's been passed, "its consequences became as real and serious as the wall" he presses his body to.
The disproportion here is between, on the one hand, the jury's fallibility as human beings and, therefore, their susceptibility to human error and, on the other hand, the fat that once these fallible people give a verdict it is treated as infallible and its outcomes are certain—death.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Meursault recalls the only story he knows about his father: having reluctantly gone to see an execution, he'd spent hours afterwards vomiting. Though, in the past, Meursault was disgusted by this story, "now I understood, it was perfectly normal." He marvels that he hadn't "seen that there was nothing more important than an execution." He vows, if he's freed, to watch every execution. The very thought of freedom fills Meursault with a "poisoned joy" that soon gives way to chills.
Meursault has also learned to empathize. His newfound emotion and investment in life enable him to connect with his father, whom he'd previously felt no real tie to. How does Meursault's use of the word "normal" here compare with his uses of the word "natural"?
Themes
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault states that the problem with the guillotine is that "you had no chance at all," that the condemned was "forced into…moral collaboration" hoping that the blade killed him the first time (since, if it failed, it would be dropped again and again until it worked). Meursault wants to reform the law to give the condemned (whom he would call "the patient") a chance: a poison that would kill nine tenths of the time. "The patient" would have to know these odds. Meursault is also disturbed that the guillotine is not lofted on a platform, as he'd imagined it, but at ground-level.
Meursault objects to the guillotine for the precise grounds that society embraces it: its certainty. Calling the condemned "the patient" translates justice into the medical arena and implies that criminals are people involuntarily suffering disease, not people who have chosen to commit crimes.
Themes
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
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Meursault is preoccupied by thoughts of dawn (when those to be executed that day are brought from their cells) and of his appeal. He waits all day and night for every dawn. He tries "to be rational" in thinking of his appeal by making himself imagine each outcome equally. He knows "perfectly well that it doesn't much matter" when one dies. Yet imagining himself being pardoned fills his heart with such "delirious joy," he has trouble being "level-headed."
Though Meursault aspires to the same cool-headed objectivity he embodied earlier in the novel, he is no longer capable of it. That is because he has always cared about physical life (as opposed to emotional life). And it is his physical life that is about to get cut off.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
One evening, Meursault is thinking about Marie, who has long since stopped writing letters to him. He thinks she might have tired of him, or be sick, or died. After he thinks of her as dead, "remembering Marie meant nothing to me." Meursault thinks the fact that her death means "nothing" to him is "normal," and claims to know full well that his death will mean nothing to anyone either.
The point is that Meursault has not changed—he is no more able of connection to another human being than he was before. It's his situation that has changed—a society, with ideals he not only disagrees with he can't even really understand, has decided to take away his life based largely on how he acted in a situation irrelevant to the actual murder he committed.
Themes
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
As he's thinking, the chaplain arrives to try to talk to him about God, even though Meursault insists he doesn't believe in Him, doesn't need help, and doesn't have time for what doesn't interest him. The chaplain tries to engage Meursault in discussing the afterlife, in considering divine justice and repenting for his sins. Meursault insists he knows only about human justice and that nothing more can be asked of him. When the priest speaks of God's face, Meursault speaks of Marie's. When the priest speaks of "another life," Meursault insists that there is only earthly life. Meursault calls the priest "monsieur," explaining that the priest isn't his father.
Meursault adamantly refuses to accept religion's 'higher meanings' and insists on the importance of physical experience. For every religious notion the chaplain proposes (the afterlife, the face of God, divine justice), Meursault exchanges a worldly alternative (this life, Marie's face, human justice). He replaces the priest's religious title, "father," with a secular title, "monsieur."
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Meursault suddenly snaps and starts yelling, "cries of anger and cries of joy." He shouts that the chaplain "was living like a dead man," that "none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman's head." Meursault yells that he is sure of his own life and death, entirely, that, though he might equally have lived his life a different way, it doesn't matter. "Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in the future," leveling everything. Everyone was equally privileged and equally condemned. Everyone is worth the same. He has grabbed the chaplain by the collar in the heat of argument and guards have to tear the chaplain free from Meursault. The chaplain leaves without giving a rebuttal.
Meursault's rant defends the idea of human interchangeability that he's believed since novel's start. Yet, while his previous attitude towards the idea seemed apathetic and indifferent, Meursault here describes the notion passionately. He presents it as an ideal of human equality. He is arguing that to live for some meaning in some other supposed life is to not live at all. That because your life could have turned out any way, but just happened to turn out this way, you have to treasure it and accept it for what it is.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Exhausted after the chaplain leaves, Meursault falls asleep and, waking, smells and hears the summer night. He feels full of peace. He thinks of his mother for the first time in a long time and feels "as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a 'fiancé,' why she had played at beginning again…So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again. Nobody, nobody had the right to cry over her."
Meursault again defends old behavior with a new spin: his lack of emotion at his mother's funeral appeared, at the time, a kind of passive indifference. Yet, thinking back, Meursault sees it as a righteous act: he now sees mourning a person's death as a form of disrespect. Instead, one should appreciate that person's freedom and love of life. He interprets Maman's decision to take a fiancée in the old people's home as evidence of that love of life, that freedom. She had lived her life, and she wanted to live it again!
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
Meursault, too, feels "ready to live it all again." Feeling that "blind rage" had "rid me of hope…I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself – so like a brother really." He realizes he has been, and is, happy and that "to feel less alone," he would just need for his execution to be watched by a crowd making "cries of hate."
Meursault is no longer indifferent towards the world's indifference. Instead, he embraces it and relates to it "like a brother," an equal. (Note the difference between the brotherly relationship Meursault envisions and the top-down, fatherly relationships prescribed by the Church). He realizes that he, as a member of humanity, is not isolated or alone. Regardless of what people think of him individually, even if they hate him, the human race at large is his companion because every life could turn out every way, and so they are all united even though they happened to turn out this way.
Themes
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon