Summary – Chapter Two
In his first few days in prison, Meursault is hardly conscious of being there and has a vague hope ‘that something would turn up, some agreeable surprise’. The change comes soon after Marie’s first and only visit. From the day he gets the letter telling him she cannot come anymore because she is not his wife, he realizes his cell is his last home: ‘A dead end, as one says.’
On the day of his arrest, he was put in a room with other prisoners, mostly Arabs, and some days later he is put in a cell on his own. Through his window he has glimpses of the sea. He then describes the visit from Marie and how the visitors had to sit thirty feet away from them and there are two sets of bars between them. There was a harsh white glare in the room and a babel of voices. Marie told him not to give up hope and keeps a set smile on her face.
Soon after, he receives the letter from her and then the time comes of things he has never liked to talk about, such as how at this time he still thinks like a free man. This lasts for only a few months and then has the thoughts of a prisoner. He gets friendly with the chief jailer who reminds him the punishment is loss of liberty. The lack of cigarettes and female company is also a difficulty and he comes to see the privation as part of the punishment too.
He also learns how to kill time and develops the trick of remembering things. After this he does not have a moment’s boredom as he recalls every detail in his bedroom. Sleeping also passes the time, as does the story of the Czech. One day he finds a bit of newspaper stuck to the underside of his mattress. This tells of a man who left his village and after 25 years, having made his fortune, he returns with his wife and child. He decides to give his mother and sister a surprise and stays at their hotel under an assumed name (and leaves his wife and child at another hotel). His mother and sister do not recognize him and after he shows them a large sum of money they slaughter him that night with a hammer. They take the money and fling his body in the river The next morning his wife appears and inadvertently reveals his identity. The mother hangs herself and his sister throws herself in the well. He reads this countless times and although unsure if it is true, he thinks the man was asking for trouble.
The time passes and when he has told he has been in for six months the words mean nothing to him. After this, he shines his pannikin and studies his face in it. His expression is terribly serious even though he is trying to smile. He also hears something that he has not heard for months. It is the sound of his voice and there is no mistaking it. He also recognizes it as the voice that for many a day has been buzzing in his ears. He then remembers something the nurse said to him at his mother’s funeral, that there is no way out, ‘and no one can imagine what the evenings are like in prison’.
Analysis – Chapter Two
In this chapter, Meursault slowly comes to recognize that he is a prisoner and is not likely to be released. This gradual processed is made apparent in the few ways open to him to pass the time and in his understanding that the loss of liberty and privation is part of his punishment. Despite knowing the crime he has committed, and feeling little sympathy for him, it is from this point onwards that it is possible to see an indictment of the penal system as the narrative progresses toward the conclusion.