Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Journal of Camus Studies 2012

The Journal of Camus Studies 2012 is now available for purchase. This is our biggest journal to date, just over 340 pages with 17 scholarly articles. The table of contents is listed below. The JCS is available in hard copy or as an ebook. You can found out more about our Journals on the Camus Society website. Due to the increased cost of printing we have had to raise our price from £10.00 to £13.95.

To purchase a copy of The Journal of Camus Studies please visit our storefront.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Paneloux's Turn: An Analysis of the Sermons of The Plague
By Eric Berg

Death in Oran : The Plague as Counter to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
By Braden Cannon

Neoconservatism in the Political Thought of Albert Camus: A Preliminary Inquiry
By Jackson Doughart

Of Dogs and Men: Empathy and Emotion in Camus' The Stranger
By Ingrid Fernandez

Homo-Social Eroticness in “The Guest”
By Peter Francev

The Eternal Return of Sisyphus: Camus Interpreting Nietzsche
By Giovanni Gaetani

“Rien, rien n'avait d'importance et je savais bien pourquoi” (“Nothing, nothing mattered, and I well knew why”): The World According to Meursault—or A Critical Attempt to Understand the Absurdist Philosophy of the Protagonist of Albert Camus's The Stranger
By George Heffernan

Selfishness in Albert Camus' La Chute
By Emily Holman

Absurdism and Lyricism: Stylistic Extremes in Camus's Novels
By Peadar Kearney

Camus' Literary Criminal and the Law: Loathing the Outsider
By Stefan Lancy

Albert Camus: The Politics of Poverty and the Misery of Kabylie
By Jerry Larson

Meursault: Mad, Bad or Messiah?
By Simon Lea

Camus's Les Justes : A Rebuff to Sartre's Les Mains Sales ?
By Benedict O'Donohoe

‘My sensibility must speak, not cry out...': Form and feeling in the Making of Camus' L'Envers et l'Endroit
By Nicholas Padfield

Aestheticizing a Bacillus: Disease and Destiny in Albert Camus's The Plague
By Patrick Reilly

‘Némesis veille…': An Attempt to Understand Camus' Unfinished Essay
By Luke Richardson

Camus' Sense of the Sacred
By Ron Srigley

Thursday, 4 April 2013

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus - One Chapter per day | Day eleven

Summary

Meursault has been sentenced and he is now in a cell awaiting the day of his execution. At first he is preoccupied with finding a way to escape the guillotine. He spends most of his day on his bed staring up at his cell window through which he can only see the sky. Have prisoners ever escaped the guillotine? Meursault wishes he'd learned more about executions. He imagines making a mad dash for it, running away until shot down from a street corner. Meursault remembers a story his mother told him about his father who had witnessed a public execution. When his father returned he was sick half the morning. He imagines himself as one of the witnesses but the thought of being a free spectator, rather than the condemned man, fills him with such a flood of joy he feels poisoned. When he first imagined his execution he thought of himself walking up steps to the scaffold, something similar to images he'd seen of the French Revolution. But then he remembers a picture he’d seen of a modern execution in which the guillotine was flat on the ground and much smaller than he expected.

Meursault thinks about his appeal. If his appeal is granted then he will escape the guillotine. He is disturbed by contradictory ideas and feelings: he can think that it doesn't matter if he dies at thirty or seventy but then feel a sudden surge of joy at the idea of living another twenty years. Another obsession is the dawn. Meursault believes that when they come for him it will be at dawn. He can't sleep all night, waiting for dawn to break. Then when it does, every noise sets his heart pounding. He listens, with his ear pressed at the cell door, for any sign of people coming. Once the dawn passes and no-one has come, Meursault believes he has another twenty-four hours of life. He develops a kind of meditation pattern in which he concentrates on the idea that his appeal is rejected and he focuses on his belief in the meaninglessness of life. Then, and only then, he allows himself to imagine himself pardoned. He tries to remain calm and remember his reasoning, while in his body he feels joy at the thought of living. When he succeeds he experiences an hour of respite.

The prison chaplain has tried three times to see Meursault, who is refusing to see him. Unexpectedly the chaplain turns up at Meursault's cell and wants to talk to him. At first Meursault is frightened by the visit but then it becomes clear that the chaplain just wants Meursault to talk about God. Although he found him quite pleasant at first, Meursault becomes irritated by the chaplain and ends up raging at him, grabbing at the man and the warders have to pull them apart. After the chaplain has gone and Meursault is alone again he falls asleep. When he awakes near dawn he feels purged of his ills, he realizes that he'd been happy and was still happy. “My last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.”

“For the third time, I've refused to see the chaplain”


Commentators have drawn parallels between this and Jesus rejecting the devil three times. We noted previously that the examining magistrate asks Meursault three times why he fired the extra shots at the Arab and that he stays silent.

Desperate to escape the guillotine

Meursault has been moved to the condemned cell and may be taken to his death at any time without warning. He desperately wants to live and tries to think of any past incidents of someone escaping the guillotine. It is the absolute certainty of this fate, to die, that he can't take.

Meaningless of his death


Death seems to have no relation to life. It is meaningless. His sentence was read at five o'clock, would it have made a difference if it had been read at eight? What difference does it make that he is being killed in the name of the French people, rather than the Germans or Chinese? And what does it mean to die in the name of the French people anyway? Will our death occur as a natural consequence to the events that occurred in our lives, our will it just happen with no apparent link to the life we had?

Story of Meursault's father sick after witnessing an execution

This happened to Camus' father. Lucien Camus died in the First World War shortly after Albert was born, they only lived together for eight months. One of the stories about his father, Camus was told, was of his going to see an execution. Like Meursault's father, Camus' father was sick afterwards.

Not like 1789

In the popular imagination the guillotine is a towering killing machine, placed high on a scaffold. Meursault can almost accept ascending the steps to take his place in the machine. However the reality is far more mundane. Guillotines are quite small and placed on the floor, usually in some corner. (See the photo from Day ten). There will be no majesty in Meursault's death. For Camus death is banal.

Meursault's prison meditations

He develops a technique. First he focuses on his imminent demise and thinks about it rationally. He knows that in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter if he dies at thirty or seventy. He also knows that life is meaningless. A pointless death awaits all of us and all the events leading up to it won't change that fact or somehow give it a purpose or meaning. If life is absurd, then a life of thirty years is just as just as meaningless as one lasting seventy years. However, at the thought of living those extra decades Meursault feels a surge of joy in his body. His meditations involve first thinking about his certain death and thinking about the meaningless of existence. Once this is done, he then thinks about being pardoned and having decades more of life. What he achieves, through this mental discipline is an hour of respite. A hour of calm when he doesn't think about dying, now or sometime later, but in which he just lives.

The chaplain


The chaplain arrives out of the blue and uninvited. Naturally Meursault panics, what does this man's arrival mean? Is he about to read the last rites? It turns out that the man just wants to talk. At first Meursault finds the chaplain pleasant but he soon tires of him. The chaplain wants Meursault to agree with his understanding of God and the universe. Meursault gets angry but not, as suggested by some commentators, because the chaplain represents anything. Attacking the chaplain is not some kind of protest against society, or the Church, or false hope, or anything like that. Meursault has won himself a hour of 'respite' and the chaplain is wasting this precious time. “He started talking to me about God again, but I didn't have much time left. I didn't want to waste it on God.”

“I woke up a bit”


Meursault has spent most of his narrative saying how tired and sleepy he felt. Now he has awakened, at least a bit.

“I'd been right, I was still right, I was always right. I'd lived a certain way and I could just as well lived in a different way... Nothing, nothing mattered and I knew very well why. He too knew why.”

For Meursault nothing matters because we will one day die. His future death 'breathes' back through time rendering everything in his life pointless. It doesn't matter if he does this or that, nothing will finally justify the choices he makes. The chaplain also accepts that we are condemned to die, he tells Meursault as much (“it wasn't because I was condemned to death that he was talking to me like that; in his opinion, we were all condemned to death.”) However, the chaplain doesn't believe everything is meaningless. Meursault shouts a lot of questions at the man but we don't get to hear an answer.

What does it matter if he is accused of murder and then executed for not crying at hiss mother's funeral?

What does it matter that Salamano's dog was worth as much as his wife?

What does it matter that the robotic woman, Masson's wife and Marie are all condemned to death?

What does it matter that Raymond is just as much a friend to Meursault as Céleste, who is worth more than him, is?

What does it matter that Marie now has a new Meursault to kiss?


Meursault asks a lot of questions. He phrases his questions in a way that states his beliefs as fact. That is, he doesn’t ask if Salamano’s dog is worth as much as his wife, the question assumes as much. He says he is right, has always been right, but is he? What about the objections that he wasn't condemned for not crying at his mother's funeral but for senselessly killing another man or that Salamano's dog isn't worth as much as his wife? What if we accept that the robotic woman, Masson's wife and Marie will all one day die but ask 'so what?' The same goes for the question of Raymond's friendship and the idea of Marie having another 'Meursault’.

How well does Camus express Christian ideas? The examining magistrate and the chaplain put up extremely weak cases. In his notebooks Camus plays with the idea of a priest called to give comfort to a condemned prisoner and as a result loses his faith. His decision to use the first person for The Stranger means that we only get a one-sided account. Meursault ideas receive no challenge. Does Camus want the reader to challenge Meursault’s ideas or are we supposed to agree with him?

Note that the chaplain is the only person that Meursault talks to about his ideas. Prior to that he only talked to himself (“...and I realized that all the time I'd been talking to myself.”) and before that he kept his ideas to himself.

Meursault sleeps and wakes near dawn


Before the outburst he couldn't sleep at night because he so fears the dawn (and the possible coming of the executioner) but now he sleeps and wakes just before dawn. He feels peace.

“For the first time in a very long time I thought of mother. I felt I understood why at the end of her life she'd taken a 'fiancé' and why she pretended to start again.”

Meursault, facing his imminent death has started a new life. He has no hopes for the future and lives the time that he has. His mother seems to have done the same, in the home where death is all around her. Crying over her, lamenting the tragedy of her death, to Meursault, is denying the worthwhileness of the life, with Pérez, she had created.

“As if this great burst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes.”

Despite what he says about 'always being right' Meursault changes over the course the novel. He tells us that as a student he had to give up his studies (Mersault in A Happy Death had to do this because his mother was ill, Camus had to do this because he was ill, both are confronted with death) and that at some point he ceased to analyze himself. In prison, through his meditations, he learns to accept death and with his confrontation with the chaplain he finally purges his hope. Meursault evolves, Camus talks of The Stranger as 'a beginning', note that a fundamental step in his evolution was sharing his ideas with another person.

“For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that here should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.”

Just like Jesus' execution. Note that Meursault has already taken comfort in the idea of being executed on a scaffold in front of a crowd (as he has seen in pictures of the Revolution). But he knows that he'd be killed quietly in a corner of the courtyard. Meursault accepts that life is meaningless, that is death is meaningless but he still wants to give it some meaning.

[Text by Simon Lea]

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus - One Chapter per day | Day ten

Summary

The chapter starts and ends in court. Meursault talks about the prosecutor talking about him and we get the thrust of the case against him. After the prosecutor's speech Meursault is given the opportunity to speak but he doesn't make himself understood and some people laugh at him. The session adjourns for lunch. When they get back Meursault's lawyer delivers a long speech. Meursault is distracted and doesn't listen to most of it. As evening approaches, Meursault is taken out while the jury deliberated upon the case. His lawyer seems confident and predicts that Meursault might get away with a few years in prison or hard labour. Meursault asks about the possibility of getting the sentence quashed if it's unfavorable. They wait for almost three quarters of an hour before being summoned back. Meursault is told he will be decapitated in a public square in the name of the French people.

“Even when you're in the dock, it's always interesting to hear people talking about you.”

However Meursault 'soon got bored with the prosecutor's speech'. During his own lawyer's speech he will get bored and distracted also. Is Meursault's boredom a sign of his emotional detachment or a description of what it's like to be on trial? Would most people find themselves drifting in and out of concentration? In the previous chapter Meursault expresses interest in the trial but the policeman, with a lot of experience of trials, replies 'but it ends up being boring.'

“Was there so much difference, anyway, between the two speeches?”

The prosecutor is arguing for guilt without mitigation. Meursault's lawyer is arguing for guilt with mitigation. There isn't a great deal of difference, not as much as there would be in a trial in which the prosecution are claiming premeditated murder and the defence are claiming total innocence. Bear in mind that Meursault isn't sitting there thinking that if things are going badly he'll end up sentenced to death. He thinks the case is relatively minor (as it would have probably been in real life at that time).

“Keep quiet, it's better for you.”

Meursault has been accused by some commentators of sitting by passively without taking much interest in his trial. However he does get annoyed at not being allowed to get more involved. He complains, “From time to time I'd feel like interrupting everyone and saying, 'But all the same, who's the accused. It's important being the accused. And I've got something to say!” Remember what he said to his lawyer before the trial (“all normal people sometimes wished their loved ones dead.”) not something you want him saying in court. And when he does get to speak later he makes a really bad job of it. If you were Meursault's lawyer, would you want him on the stand?

“But when I thought about it, I didn't really have anything to say.”

That's true. There's not a lot he could say. Unless he's prepared to lie. He could say that he controlled his feelings at the funeral and that's why he looked unemotional. He could say that the Arab came at him with the knife and he had to shoot in self-defense. He could talk about his eternal guilt over taking the life of another human being. But he won't because he sticks to his ethic of sincerity. Those readers believing him to be apathetic or even a nihilist might wonder what business he has with an ethic, let alone refusing to compromise it.

The prosecutor's argument

The murder was premeditated. Meursault is a bad character. This is shown by his behaviour at his mother's funeral and his picking up a girl on the beach the day after. He hangs around with other men of 'dubious morality', referring to Raymond, and involves himself in sordid activities such as writing the letter to Raymond's mistress. Meursault targeted the Arab on the beach. He sought them out and engaged them in a fight. He later went back, this time armed with a gun he'd borrowed from his friend, found the Arab and shot him. Meursault intended to kill. He fired four more shots to make sure his victim was dead. Finally, Meursault expresses no regret. He doesn't regret killing the man because it was no accident; he sought him out intending to kill.

The prosecutor argues for the death penalty

First he attempts to establish that Meursault has no soul. His lack of soul means that Meursault has no access to humanity or morality. There's no room for pity in this case, no compassion for a man born in this condition because his 'heart is so empty that it forms a chasm which threatens to engulf society.' This is a pretty strong accusation: the prosecutor is calling Meursault evil. He then hammers the point home going on about Meursault's mother for a long time. He then segues into the trial scheduled for the next day, the murder of a father. Invoking the horror of this crime he accuses Meursault of being 'morally responsible' for his mother's death. Having established that Meursault is guilty of a crime every bit as serious as the crime being tried the next day, he asks for the same punishment. He calls for the death penalty saying Meursault's case is as fully deserving of the punishment than any other such case he's had in the past. Meursault is 'nothing but a monster'.

“Mixing up my words a bit and realizing that I sounded ridiculous, I said it was because of the sun.”

Meursault, given the chance to speak, can not explain himself. Some people laugh at him. His lawyer just shrugs.

The lawyer's defense

He plays the prosecutor's game and starts talking about his client's soul. Note that game-playing appears continually throughout The Stranger. The lawyer peers into Meursault's soul and finds an honest chap (true), a regular and tireless worker (no reason to believe this isn't true), popular with everyone (true) and sympathetic to the misfortunes of others (true, think Salamano and his dog). He talks about Meursault's duties to his mother carried out to the best of his abilities and ends by saying that his client was stricken with eternal remorse (definitely not true).

“I agreed, but it was hardly a sincere compliment, because I was too tired.”


The lawyer’s colleagues come over after his speech to congratulate him, calling his performance magnificent. Of course it wasn't magnificent. He's rubbish as a lawyer. It's surprising that Meursault, an uncompromising follower of an ethic of sincerity offers the man an insincere compliment.

“And the utter pointlessness of what I was doing here took me by the throat and all I wanted was to get it over and go back to my cell and sleep.”

Meursault mentions sleep again. Is this a metaphysical statement about the meaninglessness of the universe or the acknowledgment that his trial is going on without him. The lawyers are spending all day trying to outdo themselves with hyperboles on the state of his soul. All the while he has to sit and watch in a stiflingly hot courtroom. Much has been made of his paying more attention to the sound of the ice-seller's trumpet and thoughts about Marie's dresses but couldn't anyone who is sat in one room listening to long speeches be able to give you detailed accounts on the room's ceiling, the pattern on the carpet and the noises from the street outside?

“He thought I'd get off with a few years in prison or hard labour. I asked him whether there was a chance of getting the sentence quashed if it was unfavourable.”

Meursault is not expecting a harsh sentence. He definitely is not steadfastly refusing to play by society's rules and willing to pay the price with his life.

“… that strange sensation I had when I discovered that the young journalist had looked away.”

The young journalist (aka Camus) has been looking at Meursault throughout the trial. Meursault last caught his eye after his defence lawyer has finished speaking. Now Meursault’s about to be sentenced he’s looking away.

“… the judge told me in a peculiar way that I would be decapitated in a public square in the name of the French people.”


Meursault has not described the trial in thrilling nail-biting fashion. It hasn’t been thrilling. Unlike a good court drama in which a man’s life hangs in the balance, with the guilty/not guilty verdict suspensefully drawn out, the verdict – guilty with mitigation/without mitigation – is revealed almost surreptitiously.

Tomorrow - Day 11 (Final Day)

[Text by Simon Lea]

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus - One Chapter per day | Day nine

Summary

Chapter three covers one day, from seven in the morning until the evening. It is the first day of Meursault's trial. He is taken from the prison in a police van and is surprised to find the courtroom crowded when he gets inside. It is summer time and the room is stifling. By the end of the day the judges, the jury, the legal teams and the journalists will all be issued with straw fans. Spectators fan themselves with newspapers. Before the trial begins one of the reporters tells Meursault that they've blown his case up a bit. Meursault notices that the policemen who brought him into the courtroom, the journalists and the legal teams are all very friendly towards each other and Meursault gets the impression that they are all in some kind of club together. As the trial is starting, he notices one of the journalists is different to the others, he is younger and instead of picking up his pen he looks right at Meursault. The names of the witnesses are called out, none of them are Arabs but all European Algerians, people from the home and Meursault's friends. He notices the strange robotic woman from the restaurant sitting next to Céleste. The presiding Judge sets the tone of the trial when he immediately asks Meursault about his relationship with his mother. Meursault is confused by the proceedings and is taken back to the prison when the session breaks for lunch. When he returns that afternoon, he hears the witnesses testimonies. Meursault is greatly moved by Céleste's attempt to paint him in a positive light. The warden and the caretaker from the home are encouraged by the prosecutor to say damning things about Meursault's behaviour and the accounts his friends give of him are torn apart. The lawyer for Meursault puts up a feeble defence. The hearing is adjourned and Meursault is packed into the van and driven back to prison. On the way he hears the familiar sounds of the town he loves at a time of day he used to feel happy.

“I said to the policeman, 'What a lot of people!' He replied that it was because of the papers and he pointed to a group standing by the table under the jury-box. He said, 'That's them.'”


Meursault's trial is supposed to be a small affair that will be cleared away quickly, according to his lawyer. The next case up is a parricide and that's going to be a big one. However, the papers must be publishing some intriguing stuff about Meursault, more than the simple story we'd expect, ‘Arab killed in fight with European on the beach’. In 1930s Algiers, this wouldn't be too sensational a story. So how is Meursault's case being presented in the papers to draw such a crowd? We don’t know because Meursault doesn’t know.

“... the journalist turned to me and smiled. He told me that he hoped everything would go well for me. I thanked him and he added, 'you know we've blown your case up a bit.'"


Meursault doesn't know, he hasn't been given the papers to read. The journalist appears a bit two-faced, he's smiling and wishing Meursault good luck but has probably written some sensational, and damning, articles about him. Note that the journalist is playing the game, it is summer silly season with no good news stories, so the papers just have to make them up.

The special correspondent from the Paris papers


He's in Algiers to cover the parricide but has now been asked to send a report on Meursault's trial too. A fight on the beach between a pied-noir and an Arab in Algeria is not going to interest Parisian readers. Meursault's case must have really be sensationalized for the Paris papers to become interested.

The friendly club house atmosphere


Meursault remarks on the friendly way the policeman, reporters and lawyers treat each other. They all seem to be members of the same club, all “happy to find themselves in a familiar world.” Is it all just fun and games for them?

“And I had the peculiar impression of being watched by myself.”

Camus writes a little cameo for himself. He was a court reporter and was younger than the other journalists. He also wore a blue flannel suit. Camus would take the side of the defendant and expose court corruption when he saw it. In The Stranger Camus writes himself as different to the other reporters. They all have pens poised, his is left lying in front of him as he looks at Meursault.

The strange robotic woman

She's at the trial too, watching Meursault. He will be conscious of her, and the young reporter, watching him throughout the trial.

The warden's testimony

He tells the court that Meursault's mother had reproached her son for sending her to a home. He had just said that the residents would often complain about their relatives but when the judge asks him to be specific about Meursault's mother reproaching him he just says 'yes' without repeating the further detail that all residents make similar complaints. He says that Meursault hadn't wanted to see his mother, but we know that he did ask to see her straight away but was told by the caretaker that he had to see the warden first. The warden goes on to give other details such as Meursault not crying or knowing his mother's exact age.

“... for the first time in years, I stupidly felt like crying because I could tell much all these people hated me.”

An emotional response from a previously unemotional Meursault. Feelings must be running pretty high in the courtroom for Meursault to feel this hate so keenly. If Meursault believes nothing matters and everything is pointless then why does what others think of him upset him?

The caretaker and Pérez


The caretaker provides more details about Meursault's behaviour at the funeral. He talks about the coffee and cigarettes and this is used against Meursault. His lawyer tries to suggest that since the caretaker offered the coffee and also smoked that Meursault can't be blamed but the prosecutor merely points out that the caretaker was not the deceased son and doesn't have the same duty towards her. Why does Meursault's lawyer play the prosecutor's game; instead of quibbling why not reject this line of questioning as irrelevant and absurd?

“Here we have the epitome of this trial. Everything is true and yet nothing is true!”

Meursault's lawyer is right. None of what has been said is untrue but none of it concerns the truth they are here to ascertain, what exactly Meursault is guilty of and his proper punishment. The lawyer is protesting the prosecutor’s approach but is not being active himself.

Meursault's friends
It is a testament to Mersault that he has friends who are willing to try and speak up for him. Everyone we have been introduced to, except for Emmanuel and Meursault's boss are present in court. Emmanuel means ‘God is with us’ – is his absence Camus’ way of saying God is not with them? Céleste, who is Camus' favourite character, tries to speak up for Meursault and tells the court that the killing was a mishap. Marie is made to say the truth that she met Meursault the day after the funeral, saw a comedy and when back to his apartment but tearfully attempts to convince the jury that the picture being painted by these brute facts is distorted. Her testimony is quite damaging to Meursault and the people don't pay attention to Masson, who says Meursault is honest and decent, or to Salamano who tries to correct the distorted image of Meursault's behaviour towards his mother. Raymond is used by the prosecutor to damn Meursault by association. It's surprising that Meursault's lawyer doesn't use Raymond's testimony to establish that the Arab was armed, dangerous and had already violently attacked one of Meursault's friends, slashing him in the face.

“But after all, is he being accused of burying his mother or of killing a man?”

The lawyer draws attention to the absurdity of the trial and people laugh, like they laughed when he pointed out that if Pérez hadn't noticed Meursault cry he hadn't noticed him not cry either. But it's not enough. The prosecutor manages to quickly swing the room back round to his way of thinking.

“As if a familiar journey under a summer sky could as easily end in prison as in innocent sleep.”

As he leaves to court to the sounds and smells of the town Meursault loves are all familiar to him. They are the same as they were long ago when he was traveling home to go to bed and fall into an easy sleep. But this time he is going back to his cell, to spend the night before returning the court the next day. He used to be happy during these summer evenings but although this summer evening is no different to those previous ones, Meursault is not happy now. Why can't Meursault be happy now? Is it just because he is locked in the police van, could he be happy if they let him walk back to the prison, through the town? Could we then imagine Meursault happy as Camus asks us to imagine Sisyphus happy as he walks back down the mountain to pick up his rock?

Tomorrow - Day 10

[Text by Simon Lea]

Monday, 1 April 2013

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus - One Chapter per day | Day eight

Summary

Meursault is in prison awaiting trial. When he first arrives he is put in a room with other prisoners, most of whom are Arabs. They laugh at him until Meursault tells them why he's in there; then they help him lay out out his bed. After a few days he his confined to his own cell. One day a warder tells Meursault he has a visitor, Meursault guesses this must be Marie, and he is right. The visiting area is a large noisy room full of prisoners, mostly Arabs, and their visitors. It takes Meursault some moments to adjust to the bright and loud room compared to the dark quiet of his cell. Marie keeps on smiling and puts on a confident front. She sends Raymond's regards and tells Meursault that he must keep on hoping. Meursault admires her beauty and wants to reach out and squeeze her shoulders through her dress, which of course he can't. The other prisoners and their visitors are a continued distraction for Meursault and he finds it hard to concentrate and understand what Marie is saying; she is talking about their getting married when he gets out. After the visit Meursault goes through a difficult time adjusting to prison life. He can't stop thinking like a free man: he'll suddenly want to go for a walk on the beach or become suddenly aware of how closed in he is behind the walls. He is tormented by sexual desire for women and craving for cigarettes. This lasts for a few months. Then then adjusts to prison life, looking forward to daily walks in the courtyard and the visits of his lawyer. A big problem is coping with the boredom. He develops a technique of using his imagination and memory to kill time. An additional problem is sleeping but this too he deals with, going from hardly being able to sleep to sleeping sixteen to eighteen hours a day. He finds a scrap of newspaper between his mattress and bed-plank and reads and re-reads the article over again. One day the warder tells him that he's been in prison for five months.

Meursault's adjustment

He had a difficult time for the first few months and gradually manages to cope with his environment. Instead of having sudden urges to walk on the beach and finding the walls closing in on him, he looks forward to his daily exercise in the yard. He craves cigarettes and sucks on bits of stick as a substitute. He also craves sexual contact with women but unlike the other prisoners, he doesn't resort to the natural substitute to remedy this. The warder explains to Meursault that being separated from women is all part of the punishment; Meursault agrees and the warden replies, 'Right, you understand things, you do. The others don't. But they end up doing it by themselves.'

Marie's visit

Marie is putting on a mask of optimism, constantly smiling and talking about Meursault's release and planning for marriage. Rather than having any meaningful conversation, they are playing a game, Meursault unsure of his role: “Then it was my turn. Marie blew me a kiss. I looked round before disappearing. She was standing quite still, with her face squashed up against the bars, and wearing the same strained, disjointed smile.” In this chapter Meursault will talk about adjusting to a different environment, the world outside of prison and his new place in prison. The visiting area is the border between the two with Marie on the one side and Meursault on the other. She has come from the bright, sunny world of beaches and cafés, he from the dark and silent prison cell. What is more important, the fact that she has visited him, what she has to say, her forced optimism or her physical beauty?

The newspaper article

The article Meursault reads about covers the story of Camus' play Cross Purpose. There are some differences, differences which shed more light on the play than on The Stranger. The man has a child as well as a wife; Jan in the play has no child. Meursault says, or the article presents the facts in this way, that the man doesn't identify himself to his mother and sister for 'fun'. Jan has a more profound reason for his deception in the play. The mother and sister club him to death in the article but he his drugged in the play. The sister throws herself down a well in the article and her mother hangs herself. In the play, the sister hangs herself and her mother drowns herself in the same weir they threw the drugged Jan into.

Note how the decision to pretend, to lie, of the man in the article contravenes Meursault's ethic of sincerity and he decides that “the traveller had deserved it really and that you should never play around.” Note also the lack of sympathy for the man (or his killers); sympathy has no part in Meursault's ethics. Yet at times Meursault shows sympathy for others, Salamano and his lawyer for example.

Meursault's reflection

Mirror images appear in all three of Camus' absurds. Caligula obsesses with his reflection in the mirror and in The Myth of Sisyphus Camus talks about the stranger that meets us in the mirror and in photographs. For Meursault there is a clash between how he thinks – or how he is trying to think – and his reflection in the spoon. “I smiled and it looked sad and severe.”

Talking to himself

What is the significance of Meursault's realization that he'd been talking to himself for days on end? Who is he talking to now, as he recounts his story? When is he talking?

Note that Meursault mentions that during this period things happen that he doesn't like talking about and after Marie's letter those things started. What we then have is a description of Meursault's troubles adjusting to prison life. We don't get any account of his emotions during this troubling period. Life sounds hard and he tells us his face is sad and severe but he doesn't talk about feeling sadness, or fear, worry, etc. We know that he is capable of feeling fear because he later tells the chaplain that he is afraid. Is it possible that Meursault is telling himself things that he doesn't share with us? If he wasn't aware he was talking he wouldn't be aware of the need to remain silent on those things he'd rather not talk about.

As we read The Stranger it is important to bear in mind that (a) Meursault, as he readily admits, isn't good at communicating his ideas, and, (b) As the narrator he doesn't share everything with his readers.

“I then remembered what the nurse said at mother's funeral. No, there was no way out and no one can imagine what the evenings are like.”

The nurse said, “If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast you perspire and then in the church you catch a chill.”

Tomorrow - Day 9

[Text by Simon Lea]