Part 2, Chapter 5
Meursault refuses to see the prison chaplain, who has already attempted to visit him three times. Instead, he thinks about the impossibility of escape and of how, even if he were to run from the guillotine, he would be shot down by a bullet anyway. Even though he knows this, he can’t help himself from thinking of escape. He remembers a story Maman told him about his father, whom he never actually knew: that one day his father went to witness an execution, and when he came home he spent the morning throwing up, because he was so upset. It doesn’t make Meursault feel better.
Meursault expounds on how he would change the system if he had a chance: he would devise some kind of drug cocktail that would guarantee death nine times out of ten; that way there would still be some hope of surviving for the prisoner. He thinks the guillotine is too final. It makes him wish the blade will work the first time, which is tantamount to wishing for death itself. He also realizes that there are no steps leading up to the guillotine. This makes it less of a spectacle for him.
Meursault clings to two things: the dawn and his appeal. He knows that the guards will take him in the morning, so whenever he survives it, he knows he has another day. He thinks of his appeal even though he knows it’s futile. He even considers the distant possibility of being pardoned. Most often, though, he succumbs to his fears and anxieties. He again refuses to see the chaplain, who visits him anyway.
During his visit, the chaplain insists that Meursault turn to God. Everyone in his position has, in the past. When Meursault expresses no interest in God, the chaplain stands up, looks Meursault right in the eye, and asks if he has any hope at all. Meursault doesn’t look away, having mastered this game of chicken, and insists that there’s nothing after death, that when he dies he will merely be dead. He finds the chaplain’s presence oppressive.
Finally, Meursault snaps and grabs the chaplain by the collar. He yells that the chaplain is wrong to believe in hope, that his chastity is a kind of death, and that nothing matters, nothing at all. He feels vindicated, because no one believed his theories of life before, but he knows he’s right now. There’s no reason for him to care about death. He was going to die anyway, and so will everyone else. This outburst brings the chaplain to tears. He’s taken away, and Meursault finds peace.
Camus uses alliteration when he describes the light as a “golden glow” in Meursault’s cell.
The French Revolution (1789–1799). The French Revolution was a time of great upheaval in France, which was swimming in debt. Over a period of ten years, the monarchy was destroyed, feudalism abolished, and a new French republic founded. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were famously executed by guillotine in front of large audiences. Meursault alludes to this because their executions gave him the impression that he would have to walk up stairs to reach the guillotine. This is false.
Meursault refers to the prison-industrial complex as a “relentless machinery” that conspires to keep men in prison and bury them under the machinations of a heartless justice system.
Colors. Within his prison cell, Meursault’s world is reduced to gray stones, drab uniforms, dark nights. The only color in his life is that of the sun and sky, which he can...
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see through the bars of his window. He takes great comfort in these colors, describing their “golden glow” and brilliant red in almost tender terms. It’s clear that color is his only real joy in this chapter.
Sound. While awaiting his execution, Meursault becomes acutely aware of sound. He listens for the guards and their footsteps, knowing that when they come for him he’ll be led to the guillotine. He rushes to the door at even the faintest sounds, straining to decipher his own fate. Sound becomes a source of great anxiety as Meursault contemplates his death, just as silence becomes a source of peace.
Meursault compares his breath to a dog’s panting, indicating his level of distress.
Death. Near the end of the chapter, Meursault asserts that there’s no afterlife and that, once he dies, he will be forgotten, just like everyone else. He goes so far as to say that, if Marie is dead, then she doesn’t matter to him anymore. When one absurd life ends, millions more continue, so what does it matter if someone lives or dies? Originally, he regards his execution with a mix of fear and disbelief. After he speaks with the chaplain, however, he makes peace with his impending death and meets it with a kind of happiness.
Religion. Camus has woven the theme of religion throughout the novel, beginning with Maman’s funeral and continuing through Meursault’s trial. His atheism has damned him in the eyes of the law even more so than his actual crime, which would appear no more or less vile than any other murder were it not for the discussion of Meursault’s criminal “soul.” In this chapter, Meursault repudiates religion and yells at the chaplain who lectures him about God and hope. Religion, like life, proves meaningless, because it will not save Meursault from death.