The Rather Odd Proceedings of the Mersault Trial in “The Stranger”

brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

In Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger,” the trial of one Mr. Mersault begins with a murder case. However, the focus of the trial drifts considerably from the original charge. After a short time, the proceedings are no longer about a murder. Mersault’s very nature as an extremely passive, nonchalant person ends up being put on trial.

Mersault has an incredibly, almost unrealistically, incompetent lawyer that he lets speak for him. It is a case that he lets very quickly get out of his hands. Mersault becomes quite distanced from the entire ordeal, finding the whole situation annoyingly absurd. It seems odd how he simply allows the deliberations to proceed in such ridiculous directions. But, it seems fairly obvious to him that anything he says will not convince the jury to think otherwise of him.

What does make sense is that as the trial proceeded, Mersault just wants the whole thing to end. He’s fairly convinced that the people around him overwhelmingly hate him, regardless of his actual guilt in the original crime. If this is the way he is to go out, he figures, so be it. The idea of an appeal does nothing for him. He knows twenty more years of further deliberation would be pointless. The same questions would still be asked, under the same circumstances, with the same answers. The only fresh things would be more ridiculous accusations. Mersault is ready for death; he has come to grips with its eventuality. With the absurd proceedings around him, he actually welcomes it.

Many human beings have the awful tendency to mock what they do not understand. In a way, each of us at one time or another has put a fellow human being on trial for being what they are, even if certainly not in a court setting. It’s not fair to put a man’s lifestyle on trial unless it is found that he is in some way significantly harmful to society; yet, that’s exactly what happens here. In this story, those in the courtroom are amazed with Mersault’s blatant honesty. Most of all, they are shocked by his total lack of emotional display. As much as the prosecutor tries to break Mersault down, there’s never a sign of weakness on Mersault’s part.

Some may wonder why Mersault doesn’t even attempt to defend himself. Mersault more than likely felt that his words could just have been used against him, then further lengthening the proceedings to a more ridiculous degree. It didn’t help he was also dealing with a rather irrational prosecutor, as well, although as Mersault admits, a lawyer is quite a bit more talented than his own defender.

Mersault’s case is one in which he is made entirely powerless. Of course, he is supposed to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, yet he is already assumed guilty going into the trial. But, it’s not specifically for the crime itself, but of being Mersault, the man himself. Mersault’s very indifference to all that is going on frightens people. He knows what he did and openly admits to the crime and all the circumstances surrounding it. Mersault does not dwell on his guilt and isn’t afraid of the impending penalty.

To some in the courtroom, including the prosecutor, Mersault’s nonchalantness is apparently considered a prerequisite for a cold-hearted killer. So, the prosecutor then brings in multiple unrelated issues. He tries his best to drag on the trial by accusing Mersault of far more than he is actually guilty of doing, going as far as accusing him for a second murder case currently on trial. The prosecutor paints Mersault as an inhuman being, or at least, that is the show he puts on.

The obvious benefit to the prosecutor’s posturing is to get more out of this case, namely money, than he would have if he remained rational and to the facts. It’s a defining characteristic of this lawyer to wring all he can from a case. Mersault’s own inadequate lawyer is not good enough to make clear the prosecutor’s irrationality, either. Then again, even the court-appointed lawyer was making his money, as well, and he may have felt Mersault almost equally as irrational.

Mersault knew how pointless it was to continue deliberations after he’d already pleaded guilty. The trial stopped being about the murder, anyway, instead morphing into some sort of soul hunt. It was a trial to find out if Mersault was actually a living, breathing human being and not some heartless, trigger-happy demon. Mersault becomes sick and tired of the harsh criticisms over how he chooses his friends. Even though being “pals” with a man who is apparently a woman-beater can throw up a red flag, it was also that “pal” who is a fair amount responsible for getting him into all this mess.

Most of all, Society attacks him on how he chooses to mourn the death of his mother, or rather how he does not, and his supposed lack of ambition. Then, Society expects him to stave off death; but, he is not in fear of it. The life he’d lived, one in which he was free to go about as he did, with a decent job, a beautiful girlfriend, and his handful of friends, was now long gone.

To Mersault, lawyers are all pretty much the same; court-appointed or not, he does not care. The whole trial seemed pointless, as he knew the guilty sentence had been silently decided on quite some time ago. He knew that continuing court proceedings would only leave him rotting in prison for even longer. While Mersault had come to be pretty much content in his cell, it was useless for this absurd trial to continue. These excess did no one any eventual good, other than making the lawyers a little more cash.

It would seem that Mersault had no sort of emotional connection to life, but at the same time a special attraction to simply living. Mersault has no room for any of Society’s expectations or conventions, instead finding them quite restrictive. He’s sick and tired of Society judging the way he lives his life. It is Society that has put him on trial for his very mannerisms most of his life.

Society’s expectations are ridiculous now to Mersault. His not defending himself may appear to some as a weakness, but it truly is strength. There is nothing he can do to make his situation any better, and he knows his old life is far behind him; he has let go of it. In his mind, there is no purpose for him to continue this way. Far as he is concerned, they can be rid of him soon as they are ready. Mersault already prepared himself for the eventuality of death, and he’s more than ready to welcome it with open arms. Such were the rather odd proceedings of the Mersault trial in “The Stranger.”

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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