A year passes and Meursault's trial date arrives. He approaches it with unanxious interest, having never "had the chance" to watch a trial before. As he is being ushered into the courtroom by policemen, he compares the jury to "anonymous passengers" on a streetcar "looking over the new arrival to see if they could find something funny about him."
Meursault approaches the trial as if he were its spectator rather than its subject. His impression of the jury as harmless, anonymous streetcar passengers shows how low he feels the stakes are (Meursault isn't afraid of the people that will determine his future).
The press has given Meursault's case a lot of publicity because of the slow summer season and because a parricide trial scheduled directly after Meursault's has brought a slew of reporters to town. Meursault feels excluded by the jovial greetings and chats among all the reporters, policemen, and lawyers, which, he thinks, is "how I explained to myself the strange impression I had of being odd man out, a kind of intruder."
Meursault's case did not draw a lot of attention in and of itself, but it is about to receive a great deal of attention simply because of where it chanced to fall in the court schedule—a mere coincidence that society will ignore as it comes to see the trial as important. Meursault is, in fact, the odd man out – he does not believe in the social norms and expectations that everyone else in the room subscribes to.
Formal proceedings begin in the packed and sweltering courtroom, reporters recording everything. The witnesses are called and the director, the caretaker, Thomas Pérez, Raymond, Masson, Salamano, and Marie "stand up" from the "shapeless mass of spectators…only to disappear." Meursault notices the strange little woman from the restaurant in the crowd, too.
Though Meursault recognizes the witnesses, they are outnumbered and absorbed by the "shapeless mass" of interchangeable strangers.
After initial questioning on the crime, the presiding judge begins to question Meursault's choice to put Maman in a home, whether it had been "hard." Meursault says no and, in response to the prosecutor asking if he'd intended to kill the Arab, says, no, "it just happened that way."
Meursault speaks honestly –whether his honesty will satisfy the court is another matter.
After lunch, the court reconvenes and the prosecutor calls witnesses. The director and caretaker each attest to Meursault's "calm" at Maman's funeral, how he'd been dry-eyed, didn't want to see her in her casket, didn't know how old she was, smoked/drank coffee beside her corpse. Thomas Pérez says he, in grief, "didn't see anything" including any tears from Meursault.
As Meursault's lawyer predicted, details that seem irrelevant to his crime turn out to be highly relevant to the prosecution. He opens his case with testimony about Meursault's lack of emotion at Mme Meursault's funeral.
When the prosecutor acts triumphant in response to the director's testimony, Meursault thinks, "for the first time in years I had this stupid urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me." Hearing the caretaker describe him smoking and drinking coffee, Meursault thinks "for the first time I realized that I was guilty."
The prosecutor is triumphant because his witness' testimony has blackened Meursault's image in the jury's minds. Meursault uses the word "guilty" in an emotional, not a legal sense – he always knew he had shot the Arab but now he knows how much people despise him for it. He suddenly feels the burden of others' disdain.
During cross-examining, Meursault's lawyer reveals that the caretaker had smoked and drunk coffee with Meursault, and that Thomas Pérez had not seen Meursault "not cry" either. The prosecutor loudly objects to the lawyer's "tactics…trying to taint the witnesses." He shouts, that though coffee might be offered at Meursault's mother's vigil, "a son should have refused it." Meursault's lawyer is optimistic.
The prosecutor is a blatant hypocrite – he himself has just elicited extraneous testimony from witnesses in order to taint the jury. Meursault's lawyer is optimistic, feeling he has exposed the prosecutor's manipulative tactics.
The defense calls witnesses: Céleste, Marie, Masson, Salamano, and Raymond. Céleste calls Meursault "'a friend'" and has prepared a long-winded defense, blaming the crime on "'bad luck'" but the judge cuts him off, explaining the court is "to judge just this sort of bad luck." Hearing Céleste, Meursault feels for "the first time in my life I…wanted to kiss a man."
Like Meursault, Céleste is unable to give the court what it wants. For Céleste, the notion that Meursault's crime was just unlucky chance is entirely comprehensible. For the court, such an explanation is meaningless. Meursault, though, recognizes and sympathizes with Céleste, filling with grateful affection for him.
After Marie is questioned by Meursault's lawyer, the prosecutor questions Marie. He gets her to describe her date with Meursault the day after his mother's death. The prosecutor, voice full of "real emotion," proclaims "the day after his mother's death, this man was out swimming, starting up a dubious liaison, and going to the movies, a comedy, for laughs. I have nothing further to say." Marie sobs, insisting her words were being twisted against her will, but is ushered out.
Of all the witnesses, Marie loves Meursault most deeply and it's ironic that her testimony is also the most damning. Marie is dismayed to hear the meaning of her words twisted by the prosecutor, who presents them as reflections of Meursault's character and insinuating their connection to the shooting of the Arab, even though no such connection exists.
Masson's and Salamano's subsequent testimony on Meursault's honesty and kindness is largely ignored. The prosecutor exposes Raymond as a pimp, cites Meursault's involvement writing the letter and serving as witness to the police. He asks Raymond whether they were friends. "We were pals," Raymond says. Meursault agrees. The prosecutor calls Meursault "a monster…without morals" who murdered to "settle an affair of unspeakable vice."
Meursault's relationship with Raymond hurts his case –Raymond's own nefarious activities taint Meursault by association. Meursault, of course, never participated in Raymond's criminal activities, he just didn't care enough to care about them, but the prosecutor twists the meaning of that into a new story in which Meursault is a monster.
Meursault's lawyer protests "'is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man?'" and, though the court laughs, the prosecutor sobers them by insisting on the "profound, fundamental, and tragic relationship" between the funeral and the murder, accusing Meursault "of burying his mother with crime in his heart." Court adjourns for the day.
The crowd laughs knowing that Meursault's behavior at the funeral is largely irrelevant. Still, the courtroom cannot resist the prosecutor's passionate emotional appeal, his weaving of a story that attributes meaning—most people are always looking for meaning; Meursault, alone, seems not to.
As he's driven back to prison, Meursault can hear from the van "the familiar sounds of a town I loved" (newspaper vendors and sandwich sellers calling, birds, streetcars turning) and noting it's the time of day "when, a long time ago, I was perfectly content…as if familiar paths traced in summer skies could lead as easily to prison as to the sleep of the innocent."
As usual, physical experience proves most evocative for Meursault. Hearing the same sounds he used to hear as a free man connects him to that old life. Meursault does not think of prison as the logical consequence of crime – rather, he thinks of prison as just another chance (and totally arbitrary) fate, as likely as "the sleep of the innocent."