What idea of the processes of law, do you get from reading l'Etranger?


1 Introduction -- how Camus depicted lawyers in his other books.

In other works of Camus, we see that he had an antipathy for judges:
In La Peste, Camus tells how he had always admired his father until one day, when he was in his teens and he had gone to court and see his father, a judge condemn to death a poor timid little man, with words of grotesque pomposity and pretension.

John Baptiste, the main character of La Chute, had formerly been a successful barrister in Paris, but he tells us he could never rue would or like judges and never understood how anyone could choose this profession.  Camus does not give a favourable picture of lawyers in the l'Etranger

2 The law is arbitrary.

i) It is as very fallible humans with own particular prejudices and preferences that we judge other people.
It is Meursault as a man who is on trial, rather than Meursault as a murderer.  Meursault protests, see page 13. of my notes, that his conduct at his mother's funeral has no bearing on the case, but Meursault’s  counsel tells him he doesn't know the law.

It is the events to which the jurors can relate directly from their own experience, which arouse the strongest reaction in them.  Thus the representation of Meursault as a boy, who did not love his mum, fills the courtroom with tangible hostility.  They reacted strongly against the lurid depiction of his sex life with Marie.

ii) Officers of the law are human, and therefore not impartial:
The Examining Magistrate tries to break Meursault down, so that he will express his remorse,  by showing him the figure of Christ on the cross.  Meursault does not respond.  After that, the Examining Magistrate, although cordial with Meursaultappears to have given him up as a lost soul.  At the end of each interrogation, he says: page 86
Page 86 - C'est fini pour aujourd’hui, monsieur l'Antéchrist.

The President of the Court turns the evidence Meursault’s disadvantage.  When the director of the old folks home says that Mme Meursault complained at first about her son putting her there, he adds  that this was normal with all new inmates.  The President of the Court, asks him to confirm this again, but ignores the qualification that this was normal

Meursault realises that his own counsel feels distaste towards him.  Having failed to persuade and the of Meursault to say the conventional things about his love for his mother, his lawyer is exasperated and as the lawyer leaves Meursault realises that his own counsel does not understand him.
Page 82 - Il ne me comprenait pas et il m'en voulait un peu. 

iii)   The eventual fate of the accused, depends on the chance of having a better lawyer than the prosecution.  There is a contrast between the bearing of the Prosecutor -- tall, slim, wearing a pince-nez and that of Meursault’s lawyer.  The latter lacks any presence in the court.  Meursault had declined to choose his own lawyer and the lawyer appointed by the state did not impress Meursault right from the first appearance.  He is small, plump, with his hair plastered down.  He wears a dark suit, with an eccentric tie.

His presentation of his client’s case is incompetent.  The first two witnesses, who are used against Meursault, the director and the concierge are exploited to the full by the prosecution, whereas Meursault ‘s witnesses Salamano and Céleste are not used effectively by his own counsel.  Later, the defence counsel fails to prevent Marie from being browbeaten in court.

Meursault recognises the incompetence of his lawyer.  He feels his lawyer is ridiculous when he fails to make the case that the Arab had provoked Meursault.  This should have been the main argument in Meursault ‘s defence, as the Arab had drawn a knife and had previously injured Raymond.  However, his lawyer passes quickly over this and concentrates on the part of the case, chosen by the prosecution for their main attack - the character of Meursault- and this is tactically wrong, as this is where Meursault is obviously vulnerable in this court.

Sometimes he is plain silly:
The defence lawyer’s silliness is seen in his opening remarks, Page 17 my notes.  He says he can read Meursault like an open book.  In fact, Meursault  is a profound, complex character.

4) The court is an absurd world of its own with its own rituals:

The book records the histrionics of the lawyers.  (Camus had been a court reporter.)  We see their exaggeration and emotional flights of rhetoric.  When the prosecutor reveals that Raymond is well known as a pimp, he uses this to denounce Meursault as Raymond’s accomplice in most emotive language:  (Page 108)

……..de notoriété générale le témoin exercait le métier de souteneur...J’étais son accomplice et-son ami.  Il s'agissait d'un drame crapuleux de la plus basse espèce, aggravé du fait qu'on.avait affaire a un monstre moral.

The lawyers are congratulated on their performances like actors.  Yet all this play acting goes on with a man's life at stake.
With similar emotive rhetoric the prosecutor misrepresents Meursault’s love affair with Marie, which he describes as most shameful debauchery.  (See page 15.  )

By their skills, lawyers make witnesses misrepresent themselves.  After appearing in the witness box, Marie bursts into sobs and says she's been made to say the opposite of what she intended.


Trivia is invested with excessive significance in the court procedures (Page 14 summary notes.)  Absurd importance is given to Meursault having drunk a “café au lait”, at the side of his mother's body.  When Meursault’s lawyer gets the concierge to admit that it was he who thought of bringing the coffee, he still succeeds in turning it against Meursault by saying that a concierge can offer coffee, but a son must refuse it.

Another aspect of the absurdity is the exclusive, artificial society of the court

While Meursault stands in the dock with his life at stake, the journalists, policemen and lawyers act as though they are members of a cosy exclusive club. (See page 98)

Page 98 - tout le monde se rencontrait, s'interpellait et conversait comme dans un club où l’on est heureux de se retrouver entre gens du même monde. Je me suis expliqué aussi la bizarre impression que j'avais d'être de trop, un peu comme un intrus.

Meursault does not feel personally involved in these proceedings, even though it is his own life that is at stake.  His lawyer has told him that it will be better if he did not speak.
This sense of being excluded from his own trial reaches a peak in the final summing up of the defence.  Meursault is fascinated that his lawyer says: “I” every time he means Meursault.  He leans over their will ask the gendarme, who tells him that this is a normal practice of lawyers.  Meursault feels that this device is pushing him even further out of the case (Page 17 summary notes.)


The final great absurdity is that human justice is unjust. (See earlier notes).  Meursault is not an unnatural son.
Meursault is not a dissolute debauchery.
Meursault is not an accomplice of Raymond.
Meursault was not an unfeeling monster, but a sensitive idealistic man with an individual philosophy of life.
The events of the murder were not presented in a true light.

Conclusion -  The cruel absurdity of the world:

In spite of our pretensions, we do not live in a rational world:  Rather than logical argument it is irrational moods which sway the jurors and the court.  The concierge of the old folk's' home had told how Meursault had not wished to see the corpse, had smoked, slept and drunk cafe au lait.  At that moment "Meursault senses something in the room which tells him he is guilty`. "Page 103 –
J'ai senti alors quelque chose qui soulevait toute la salle et, pour la premiere fois, j'ai compris, que j'étais coupable.'

After the final verdict of the court, the mood swings, too late, in Meursault’s favour.  Now the hatred and hostility change to a sense of consideration for him as a man who faces the guillotine.

Thus, it appears that there is no consistent principle of injustice or hatred in human affairs- simply that in our absurd world different groups of people react inconsistently and irrationally to the events of our lives.

Meursault’s story -- how his perception is affected by the physical environment -- reminds us that mind and body are one in nature.  Similarly, the physical events of the courtroom affects the jurors.  The heat is oppressive and all there are supplied with fans.  As the day drags on the jurors become tired.