Free Study Guide: The Stranger by Albert Camus - Free BookNotes

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Mersaultís trial takes place in the last court session in June, almost a year after the murder occurred. The day is bright and filled with sunshine, symbolizing that Mersault still has some hope. When his lawyer tells him that the trial should not last for more than two to three days, Mersault also takes that as a good sign.

Mersault waits outside the courtroom until he is called inside. When he enters, he is surprised to see that there is a huge crowd, including many journalists, on hand to hear his case; he acknowledges that he has never received much attention before. Once he takes the stand, Mersault looks at the jury and feels that they are looking at him like a criminal; it is hard for him to understand that his group of strangers will be analyzing his life and assessing his guilt. They make him feel like a stranger, even unto himself.

The proceedings begin with the judge promising to be impartial and to handle the trial in "the spirit of justice." The list of witnesses is then called and includes Raymond, Masson, Salamano, the Warden from the Home, Thomas Perez, and Marie. Of course, Mersault is the first person to be called to the witness stand. The judge initially asks him routine questions about his name, occupation, and the charge against him. The first real question that Mersault is asked is about his reason for sending his mother away to the Home for the Aged. His truthful explanation makes him seem like a cold, uncaring person. Mersault is then asked whether he went to the stream with the intention of killing the Arab. Once again his answer seems to point to his guilt. Mersault then suddenly realizes that all the people in the courtroom loathe him; the realization upsets him greatly, and he suppresses his desire to burst into tears.

The Warden of the Home is next called to the witness stand. He states that Mersault refused to see the body of his deceased mother, did not know her age, and did not shed a tear over her death. He also adds that Mersaultís mother often complained about her sonís sending her away to the home. Thomas Perez, the old man from the Home for the Aged who became friends with Mersaultís mother, is called to the witness stand. He is questioned about Mersaultís relationship with his mother and his reaction to her death. Perezís testimony does not help Mersaultís case, for he says that he was in such a state of shock over the loss of his friend that he did not notice Mersault at all. He further adds that he cannot be sure whether Mersault cried at his motherís funeral. Mersaultís lawyer asks the prosecutor if his client is being tried for killing a man or for burying his mother. The prosecutor claims that the two things are related, for Mersaultís reaction to his motherís death shows that he was a criminal at heart. These words clearly influence the jury.

The next witness is Celeste, the owner of the restaurant where Mersault used to dine. He gives a good opinion of Mersault and says that the crime could be just an accident. Mersault is so happy with Celesteís testimony that he wishes to kiss him. Marie is also called to the witness stand. She is questioned about Mersaultís conduct and their affair. Mersaultís lawyer had hoped that her testimony would help in Mersaultís defense; but the prosecutor turns her answers into a condemnation of Mersault. When Raymond is questioned, he explains the events of the day of the murder and emphasizes the fact that Mersaultís presence at the beach was just a coincidence; but his testimony clearly has no impact. By the end of the day, Mersault realizes that things are not moving in his favor. He dreads spending the night in his cell and returning to the courtroom the next day. As he is being transported back to the prison, he notices the sounds of freedom: the streetcar noises, the sounds of traffic, the calls of birds. As a free man, he had never appreciated such little things. Now that they have been taken away, he realizes their value.


Before the trial begins, Mersault is hopeful, as symbolized by his reaction to the bright sunny day and his belief that the trial will not last long; but once he goes on the witness stand, his hopes steadily disappear. When he looks at the jury, he feels they already view him as a criminal. When the prosecuting attorney asks his about his motherís death, Mersault realizes that his answers make him seem like an uncaring person. When Thomas Perez and Marie are questioned by the Prosecutor, their answers are turned against Mersault, and the favorable testimony of Celeste and Raymond clearly have no impact on the jury. By the end of the day, Mersault realizes that his case does not look good. He is despondent when he leaves the courtroom, dreads spending another night in his cell, and does not want to return to the trial the next day.

To bring an element of absurdity to the trial, Camus intentionally develops the Prosecutor in a terribly negative light. His arguments against Mersault are often baseless; as evidenced by the fact that he tries to make him responsible for his motherís death and to somehow link Mersaultís case to the parricide case, which will follow this trial. Unfortunately for Mersault, the jury responds more negatively to him than they do to the Prosecutor. It is not surprising that Mersault feels like breaking into tears.

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