Last Updated on January 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691
Part 2, Chapter 2
Meursault initially feels some reluctance about speaking of his life in prison, but he gets over it. The prison guards place him in a cell with several Arab men but then transfer him to his own cell. He lives in solitude after that. Early on, he receives a visit from Marie. This visit takes place in a big, brightly lit room where ten prisoners and their visitors shout over each other to be heard. She still thinks that they’ll get married.
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During their conversation, Meursault periodically grows bored with Marie. He listens in on some of the conversations around him, noting the husband and wife beside him and the young man and his mother to his other side. Eventually, Marie is taken away, and he returns to his cell. After this, she writes to say that they wouldn’t allow her to visit again because she wasn’t his wife.
Meursault struggles with his separation from Marie. He doesn’t like to admit it, but he misses the physical contact and longs to touch a woman again. On the basis of this, he becomes friends with the head guard, who understands. Soon, however, Meursault lets go of his desires, succumbing to the silence and isolation of his imprisonment. He also struggles to give up cigarettes. Eventually, though, he breaks his addiction and starts looking for ways to kill time.
Meursault starts sleeping most of the day. When he’s awake, he thinks about his old apartment in Algiers and imagines his old possessions. He finds an old newspaper clipping under his mattress. It tells the story of a Czechoslovakian man who had returned to a village after a twenty-year absence, only to be murdered by his mother and sister, who didn’t recognize him. Meursault loses track of time in prison. After five months, he finally looks at himself in a mirror and realizes he has been talking to himself.
Cigarettes. Cigarettes make their final appearance in this chapter, which sees Meursault kick his habit due to the absence of cigarettes in solitary confinement. He suffers a brief withdrawal period but is able to recover without medical attention. Though this vice has caused him trouble in the past, getting rid of it doesn’t improve his situation and merely resigns him to his fate.
Sound. Sound becomes an important motif in this chapter. Previously, sound was most noticeable in the murder scene, when the gunshots sounded like knocking on a door. Here, Camus approaches the motif of sound through the voices of his characters: the prisoners in the visiting room, shouting to be heard, and Meursault himself, who talks out loud for months without even noticing it. The sounds in this chapter all point to the devastating effects that prison has had on Meursault (often without his even acknowledging it).
Marie's Letter. For Meursault, Marie's letter symbolizes the end of romance, the end of sex, and, ultimately, the end of happiness. When Meursault reminisces about waiting to see Marie each week, it becomes clear that this was his primary joy in life and that giving it up is harder than giving up cigarettes, to which he was addicted. He thinks of the loss of physical intimacy as the worst part of prison.
The Newspaper Clipping. This clipping becomes a symbol of absurdity itself. Its story (of a wealthy man who just happens to be killed his mother and sister when he hides his identity from them) hinges entirely on chance and could easily have gone differently. During the trial, Meursault will assert that it was “chance” that led him to be on the beach the day of the murder. This makes his story as improbable as that in the clipping.
Sex. Meursault repeatedly says that there are certain things he has “never liked talking about.” It takes a moment to realize that one of those things is sex. He refuses to go into particulars about his sex life with Marie or his romantic entanglements with women, but it’s clear that sex—if not romance—is one of the few pleasures in his life.