Part 2, Chapter 3: Summary and Analysis
Part II, Chapter 3 Summary
Meursault's trial begins. He's stunned to see that the stuffy courtroom is full. Apparently, the press had gotten hold of the story and built Meursault up to be a monster in the papers. This is less about Meursault's actions and more about the fact that it was a slow news cycle. His lawyer and all of the guards seem friendly with the members of the press, who greet each other as if they're at some kind of country club. A bell rings, signalling the beginning of the trial.
Three judges enter the courtroom, one in red and two in black. The prosecutor is also wearing a red robe. First the jury is selected, then the judge checks that all the witnesses are in attendance. Marie, Raymond, Salamano, Masson, Thomas Peréz, and a number of Meursault's acquaintances are there. Before the witnesses take the stand, the presiding judge questions Meursault. He reads Meursault's previous statements, then asks about Maman: was it hard for Meursault to put her in the home? He says no. This will not be the last time he's asked about Maman.
There's a short recess, in which Meursault is driven back to the prison to eat some lunch. Then the trial begins again. First, the director of the nursing home is called. He testifies that Meursault was unusually "calm" at the funeral and appeared unmoved by the loss of his mother. He also says that Maman complained about being put in the home, but adds that this is common among residents. It nevertheless reflects poorly on Meursault.
Then the caretaker is called to the stand. He testifies that Meursault offered him a cigarette during Maman's vigil and later accepted a cup of coffee (as did the other mourners). This upsets the jury, and Meursault notices that the entire audience has been judging him because of it. He doesn't deny what he did, and his lawyer argues it's insignificant, but the prosecutor uses it to smear Meursault's character.
Thomas Peréz then testifies that he was crying too hard at Maman's funeral to notice if Meursault was crying, too, meaning that he may or may not have been crying. Meursault's lawyer points out that this may or may not be true, and that this characterizes the entire trial: "everything is true and nothing is true!"
Céleste then takes the stand. He states that Meursault was a good customer and a friend and that the murder was simply "bad luck," meaning that it was the result of a series of unfortunate events. This makes Meursault happy, but he doesn't show it; and of course the jury doesn't care. Marie takes the stand. The prosecutor asks her to describe her first date with Meursault. He points out that this date took place the day after the funeral. His comments cause Marie to burst out in tears.
Following Marie's outburst, Masson and Salamano take the stand. Both testify that Meursault is an honest man. Raymond is the last witness and, some would say, the last nail in the coffin. He says it was all "just chance": chance that Meursault had the gun, chance that he shot the Arab man, chance that he was involved in Raymond's dispute in the first place. The prosecutor immediately discredits Raymond's testimony by revealing that he's a pimp.
Meursault's lawyer shouts, "Come now, is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man?" When the spectators laugh, the prosecutor proclaims that the two are gravely related. Soon, the trial is adjourned, and Meursault is taken back to prison. The dim light of evening reminds him of his old life and how content he was to listen to the sounds of the city.
Part II, Chapter 3 Analysis
Meursault equates the jury with streetcar passengers who stare at him (the new passenger) in order to figure out if there's something funny or weird about him. He uses this metaphor to indicate that he's often judged in the real world, just as he is in the courtroom.
Colors. In this chapter, red and black become very prominent colors. Both the prosecutor and the presiding judge wear red, whereas the two other judges, who remain silent, wear black. The use of color here aligns the prosecutor and the presiding judge, who seem united in their distaste for Meursault.
Meursault describes a man "who looked like a fattened-up weasel."
Chance. Chance first made its appearance in this novel in Part I, Chapter 3, when Raymond finds a lottery ticket in his mistress' purse. Here, chance frames Meursault's crime as a kind of happenstance: all the events leading up to it were "just chance," as if at any given point things might've worked out differently. One might reasonably assume, because of this, that Meursault's actions were mistakes, but he doesn't seem to think of it that way at all.
Isolation. Just before the trial begins, Meursault gets the feeling that he's an "odd man out, a kind of intruder" at his own trial. He's surrounded by people who already know each other (lawyers, journalists, and judges) and doesn't notice his friends in the crowd at first. That word—"intruder"—touches on the theme of isolation implied by the title, The Stranger. The reader is meant to assume that Meursault doesn't really fit in French society, that he isn't part of the status quo and thus can't relate very well to others. His isolation makes it easy for the prosecutor and the press to target him.
Truth. Meursault's lawyer makes a good point when he says that in this absurd trial "everything is true and nothing is true." The truth of the matter is that Meursault shot the Arab man for no good reason and without planning the murder in advance. However, the prosecutor and the reporters are twisting the facts of the case, making Meursault out to be a monster simply for drinking a cup of coffee. Truth, it seems, is less important than appearances, at least in this novel.