Things Have Changed

The distinction between parts 1 and 2 of The Stranger is something to take note of, both from a regular writing standpoint and a broader thematic standpoint. The most basic change was to the setting, but the prison environment forced the writing to change as well. Because of Meursault’s lack of freedom, there are fewer instances of landscape description (this bleeds into the once ever-present sky motif–it doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much in part 2). Also, due to prison’s daily tedium, we don’t get descriptions of actions or events as much, which was kind of jarring after going through all of Part 1.

The gaps left by the change in scenery are filled in with monologuing and character interaction. This part has a lot more focus on people’s opinions rather than facts of a certain situation (compare the descriptions of Meursault meeting the funeral director to him meeting the magistrate–the latter scene goes a lot more in-depth into the thoughts of the characters than the former), whether they were Meursault’s own opinions (like those on his cell or desire for a woman) or someone else’s. Even though Meursault is just as detached as ever, I got the sense that he was engaging more with the people around him, since he just has to be there, has to listen to their positions.

This introduces the most striking aspect of part 2 in general: a lot more people are challenging Meursault on his way of life. Meursault can’t catch a break in this regard; throughout part 2, he has encounters with his lawyer, the magistrate, and the chaplain, and the entire trial is just one big example of this. In every interaction, Meursault is the one being put on the spot, since his lifestyle and logical processes are just incomprehensible to people. He goes through life having wants and needs like any other person, but he doesn’t make anything more out of what they are, doesn’t try to give them some sort of higher meaning.

It seems like the other people in the book–the “normal” people–cannot function without some obligatory sense of meaning, derived from their common experiences… like, say, crying at a loved one’s funeral. It’s viewed as unheard of because if someone were to go against it, that would force them to look at the situations in life they’ve created and question why they were made. Why does the idea of family carry so much societal weight? If we’re looking at it head-on, families are units of people that aid in each other’s survival; important, yes, but to a life-defining degree? Meursault surely doesn’t think so. In this way, if part 1 was an establishment of The Stranger‘s philosophy through Meursault’s apathetic lifestyle, then part 2 is where this philosophy is directly challenged and must be reasserted by Meursault (which does happen at the very end of the book).

2 thoughts on “Things Have Changed

  1. Charles D.

    I’m glad to be reminded of Meursault’s odd interactions with his lawyer. The dynamic between them right at the beginning of part 2 may represent how people feel about Meursault’s philosophy on life. The lawyer was very confused, and yet Meursault wanted to reassure him that he was normal after all. Without a doubt, he is not conventionally normal. Moreover, people don’t often have the time to examine the pedestal they put certain ideals on. As such, people like the lawyer think Meursault is weird.

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