Summary – Chapter Three
His trial starts in June and the first day is one of brilliant sunshine. His lawyer assures him the case will only take two or three days. On his arrival in court, and after being asked if he is nervous, Meursault replies ‘no’ and is interested in witnessing the trial.
There is a great crowd in the courtroom. The air is stiflingly hot already and light filters through the closed venetian blinds. He sees the jury and they remind him people sitting opposite him on the tram. He knows the comparison is absurd, but thinks the difference is not so great. He feels a bit dizzy with the stuffiness and the crowd, and does not recognize any faces. He thinks of it as a new experience, being a focus of interest, as ordinarily no one paid much attention to him.
A policeman explains to him that the newspapers are responsible for the crowds and points out that the journalists are sat just below the jury box. One is a friend of the policeman and as he approaches he notices others in the court are also greeting each other as though in a club. He thinks this explains why he feels like a gatecrasher. The journalist explains they have featured his case a lot as little is happening (as it is the summer) except his case and the one following, which is a parricide.
Meursault’s lawyer enters and shakes hands with the journalists. He then comes to Meursault. He tells him to answer his questions briefly and not volunteer any information. The public prosecutor and judges enter and two large electric fans start buzzing overhead.
The witness list is read out and some surprise him. Celeste, Raymond, Masson, Salamano, the doorkeeper at his mother’s home, old Pérez and Marie are led out and he thinks it is strange that he did not recognize them before. When Celeste rises to go, he notices he is sat next to the little woman who had shared his table at his restaurant.
The trial begins and the judge lingers on each detail. The journalists scribble busily, but Meursault is sometimes conscious that the youngest one there has his eyes fixed on him. Meursault is then asked about his mother, as this is seen as ‘highly relevant’ even though foreign to the case. The prosecutor then asks if he went back to the stream with the intention of killing the Arab. Meursault says no, and adds that it was ‘pure chance’.
After lunch, it is hotter still and everyone has been given fans. The warden is called and says yes when asked if his mother complained about being put in the home. On being questioned further, he says he was surprised at Meursault’s calmness at the funeral. He explains that he did not cry, did not want to see her body and left straight after the funeral and did not linger at the grave. He adds that one of the undertaker’s men said Meursault did not know his mother’s age. The prosecutor tells him he has no more questions, as he has all he wants. The triumph on his face makes Meursault feel like crying and realizes for the first time that people loathe him.
The porter is called and he tells how Meursault drank cafe au lait and smoked on the vigil. Meursault feels a sort of ‘wave of indignation’ spread the room and understands for the first time that he is guilty. On being pushed by Meursault’s lawyer, the porter admits he smoked too, but says he only did so out of politeness. Meursault admits to this and the porter admits he suggested coffee, but Meursault is still criticized by the prosecutor for accepting the offer.
Pérez is called next and he says how he noticed little that day. He is asked if he saw Meursault weep and he replies no. He contradicts himself when Meursault’s lawyer asks him this, but no heed is paid.
Celeste is then called as a defence witness and he says how he sees the crime as an accident. For the first time in his life, Meursault wants to kiss a man. Marie is next, and she is asked when they began dating. The prosecutor points out that this was the day after his mother’s funeral. She then has to give an account of what they did and has to reveal the film they watched had Fernandel in it. By the time she has finished, the room is completely still. After the prosecutor sums up what she has said, she bursts into tears and is led away.
Hardly anyone seems to listen to Masson and Salamano when they are called. Raymond is the final witness and he starts by saying Meursault is innocent. After being asked, he says it is a coincidence that Meursault was with him on the beach and chance that Meursault wrote the letter that led up to the tragedy.
The prosecutor questions these coincidences and reports that Raymond is known as a pimp and Meursault is his associate. He describes his background in crime as ‘squalid’. He also says the prisoner’s personality makes it all the more odious and then refers to Meursault as ‘an inhuman monster wholly without a moral sense’. The prosecutor then asks if each is friends with the other and both say ‘yes’. He goes on to describe the murder as part of a vendetta.
The chapter ends with Meursault’s lawyer asking if his client is on trial for having buried his mother or for killing a man. The prosecutor responds that his behavior at the funeral shows he is a ‘criminal at heart’ and Meursault realizes things are not going well for him.
Analysis – Chapter Three
Meursault’s lack of emotion at his mother’s funeral takes on a greater role now as it is investigated as revealing a part of his personality. This point is made in farcical terms, as the funeral is unrelated to the murder, but it is one that has depth as it is possible to see that he is being judged for his morality (with regard his mother) rather than for the murder of an Arab. The hypocrisy of this is undeniable, as the court shows as much disregard for the murdered man as Meursault.