Albert Camus ʍ THE STRANGER
The Judge then launched into an account of what I’d done, stopping after every
two or three sentences to ask me, “Is that correct?” To which I always replied, “Yes,
sir,” as my lawyer had advised me. It was a long business, as the Judge lingered on
each detail. Meanwhile the journalists scribbled busily away. But I was sometimes
conscious of the eyes of the youngest fixed on me; also those of the queer little robot
woman. The jurymen, however, were all gazing at the red-robed judge, and I was
again reminded of the row of passengers on one side of a tram. Presently he gave a
slight cough, turned some pages of his file, and, still fanning his face, addressed me
He now proposed, he said, to trench on certain matters which, on a superficial
view, might seem foreign to the case, but actually were highly relevant. I guessed
that he was going to talk about Mother, and at the same moment realized how odious
I would find this. His first question was: Why had I sent my mother to an institution?
I replied that the reason was simple; I hadn’t enough money to see that she was
properly looked after at home. Then he asked if the parting hadn’t caused me
distress. I explained that neither Mother nor I expected much of one another—or, for
that matter, of anybody else; so both of us had got used to the new conditions easily
enough. The Judge then said that he had no wish to press the point, and asked the
Prosecutor if he could think of any more questions that should be put to me at this
The Prosecutor, who had his back half turned to me, said, without looking in my
direction, that, subject to His Honor’s approval, he would like to know if I’d gone
back to the stream with the intention of killing the Arab. I said, “No.” In that case,
why had I taken a revolver with me, and why go back precisely to that spot? I said it
was a matter of pure chance. The Prosecutor then observed in a nasty tone: “Very
good. That will be all for the present.”
I couldn’t quite follow what came next. Anyhow, after some palavering among the
bench, the Prosecutor, and my counsel, the presiding judge announced that the court
would now rise; there was an adjournment till the afternoon, when evidence would
Almost before I knew what was happening I was rushed out to the prison van,
which drove me back, and I was given my midday meal. After a short time, just
enough for me to realize how tired I was feeling, they came for me. I was back in the
same room, confronting the same faces, and the whole thing started again. But the
heat had meanwhile much increased, and by some miracle fans had been procured
for everyone: the jury, my lawyer, the Prosecutor, and some of the journalists, too.
The young man and the robot woman were still at their places. But they were not
fanning themselves and, as before, they never took their eyes off me.
I wiped the sweat from my face, but I was barely conscious of where or who I was
until I heard the warden of the Home called to the witness box. When asked if my
Albert Camus ʍ THE STRANGER
mother had complained about my conduct, he said, “Yes,” but that didn’t mean
much; almost all the inmates of the Home had grievances against their relatives. The
Judge asked him to be more explicit; did she reproach me with having sent her to the
Home, and he said, “Yes,” again. But this time he didn’t qualify his answer.
To another question he replied that on the day of the funeral he was somewhat
surprised by my calmness. Asked to explain what he meant by “my calmness,” the
warden lowered his eyes and stared at his shoes for a moment. Then he explained
that I hadn’t wanted to see Mother’s body, or shed a single tear, and that I’d left
immediately the funeral ended, without lingering at her grave. Another thing had
surprised him. One of the undertaker’s men told him that I didn’t know my mother’s
age. There was a short silence; then the Judge asked him if he might take it that he
was referring to the prisoner in the dock. The warden seemed puzzled by this, and the
Judge explained: “It’s a formal question. I am bound to put it.”
The Prosecutor was then asked if he had any questions to put, and he answered
loudly: “Certainly not! I have all I want.” His tone and the look of triumph on his
face, as he glanced at me, were so marked that I felt as I hadn’t felt for ages. I had a
foolish desire to burst into tears. For the first time I’d realized how all these people
After asking the jury and my lawyer if they had any questions, the Judge heard the
doorkeeper’s evidence. On stepping into the box the man threw a glance at me, then
looked away. Replying to questions, he said that I’d declined to see Mother’s body,
I’d smoked cigarettes and slept, and drunk café au lait. It was then I felt a sort of
wave of indignation spreading through the courtroom, and for the first time I
understood that I was guilty. They got the doorkeeper to repeat what he had said
about the coffee and my smoking.
The Prosecutor turned to me again, with a gloating look in his eyes. My counsel
asked the doorkeeper if he, too, hadn’t smoked. But the Prosecutor took strong
exception to this. “I’d like to know,” he cried indignantly, “who is on trial in this
court. Or does my friend think that by aspersing a witness for the prosecution he will
shake the evidence, the abundant and cogent evidence, against his client?” None the
less, the Judge told the doorkeeper to answer the question.
The old fellow fidgeted a bit. Then, “Well, I know I didn’t ought to have done it,”
he mumbled, “but I did take a cigarette from the young gentleman when he offered
it—just out of politeness.”
The Judge asked me if I had any comment to make. “None,” I said, “except that
the witness is quite right. It’s true I offered him a cigarette.”
The doorkeeper looked at me with surprise and a sort of gratitude. Then, after
hemming and hawing for a bit, he volunteered the statement that it was he who’d
suggested I should have some coffee.
Albert Camus ʍ THE STRANGER
My lawyer was exultant. “The jury will appreciate,” he said, “the importance of
The Prosecutor, however, was promptly on his feet again. “Quite so,” he boomed
above our heads. “The jury will appreciate it. And they will draw the conclusion that,
though a third party might inadvertently offer him a cup of coffee, the prisoner, in
common decency, should have refused it, if only out of respect for the dead body of
the poor woman who had brought him into the world.”
After which the doorkeeper went back to his seat.
When Thomas Pérez was called, a court officer had. to help him to the box. Pérez
stated that, though he had been a great friend of my mother, he had met me once
only, on the day of the funeral. Asked how I had behaved that day, he said:
“Well, I was most upset, you know. Far too much upset to notice things. My grief
sort of blinded me, I think. It had been a great shock, my dear friend’s death; in fact,
I fainted during the funeral. So I didn’t hardly notice the young gentleman at all.”
The Prosecutor asked him to tell the court if he’d seen me weep. And when Pérez
answered, “No,” added emphatically: “I trust the jury will take note of this reply.”
My lawyer rose at once, and asked Pérez in a tone that seemed to me needlessly
“Now, think well, my man! Can you swear you saw he didn’t shed a tear?”
Pérez answered, “No.”
At this some people tittered, and my lawyer, pushing back one sleeve of his gown,
“That is typical of the way this case is being conducted. No attempt is being made
to elicit the true facts.”
The Prosecutor ignored this remark; he was making dabs with his pencil on the
cover of his brief, seemingly quite indifferent.
There was a break of five minutes, during which my lawyer told me the case was
going very well indeed. Then Céleste was called. He was announced as a witness for
the defense. The defense meant me.
Now and again Céleste threw me a glance; he kept squeezing his Panama hat
between his hands as he gave evidence. He was in his best suit, the one he wore
when sometimes of a Sunday he went with me to the races. But evidently he hadn’t
been able to get his collar on; the top of his shirt, I noticed, was secured only by a
brass stud. Asked if I was one of his customers, he said, “Yes, and a friend as well.”
Asked to state his opinion of me, he said that I was “all right” and, when told to
explain what he meant by that, he replied that everyone knew what that meant. “Was
I a secretive sort of man?” “No,” he answered, “I shouldn’t call him that. But he isn’t
one to waste his breath, like a lot of folks.”
The Prosecutor asked him if I always settled my monthly bill at his restaurant
when he presented it. Céleste laughed. “Oh, he paid on the nail, all right. But the bills
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were just details-like, between him and me.” Then he was asked to say what he
thought about the crime. He placed his hands on the rail of the box and one could see
he had a speech all ready.
“To my mind it was just an accident, or a stroke of bad luck, if you prefer. And a
thing like that takes you off your guard.”
He wanted to continue, but the Judge cut him short. “Quite so. That’s all, thank
For a bit Céleste seemed flabbergasted; then he explained that he hadn’t finished
what he wanted to say. They told him to continue, but to make it brief.
He only repeated that it was “just an accident.”
“That’s as it may be,” the Judge observed. “But what we are here for is to try such
accidents, according to law. You can stand down.”
Céleste turned and gazed at me. His eyes were moist and his lips trembling. It was
exactly as if he’d said: “Well, I’ve done my best for you, old man. I’m afraid it
hasn’t helped much. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t say anything, or make any movement, but for the first time in my life I
wanted to kiss a man.
The Judge repeated his order to stand down, and Céleste returned to his place
amongst the crowd. During the rest of the hearing he remained there, leaning
forward, elbows on knees and his Panama between his hands, not missing a word of
It was Marie’s turn next. She had a hat on and still looked quite pretty, though I
much preferred her with her hair free. From where I was I had glimpses of the soft
curve of her breasts, and her underlip had the little pout that always fascinated me.
She appeared very nervous.
The first question was: How long had she known me? Since the time when she
was in our office, she replied. Then the Judge asked her what were the relations
between us, and she said she was my girl friend. Answering another question, she
admitted promising to marry me. The Prosecutor, who had been studying a document
in front of him, asked her rather sharply when our “liaison” had begun. She gave the
date. He then observed with a would-be casual air that apparently she meant the day
following my mother’s funeral. After letting this sink in he remarked in a slightly
ironic tone that obviously this was a “delicate topic” and he could enter into the
young lady’s feelings, but—and here his voice grew sterner—his duty obliged him to
waive considerations of delicacy.
After making this announcement he asked Marie to give a full account of our
doings on the day when I had “intercourse” with her for the first time. Marie
wouldn’t answer at first, but the Prosecutor insisted, and then she told him that we
had met at the baths, gone together to the pictures, and then to my place. He then
informed the court that, as a result of certain statements made by Marie at the
Albert Camus ʍ THE STRANGER
proceedings before the magistrate, he had studied the movie programs of that date,
and turning to Marie asked her to name the film that we had gone to see. In a very
low voice she said it was a picture with Fernandel in it. By the time she had finished,
the courtroom was so still you could have heard a pin drop.
Looking very grave, the Prosecutor drew himself up to his full height and,
pointing at me, said in such a tone that I could have sworn he was genuinely moved:
“Gentlemen of the jury, I would have you note that on the next day after his
mother’s funeral that man was visiting the swimming pool, starting a liaison with a
girl, and going to see a comic film. That is all I wish to say.”
When he sat down there was the same dead silence. Then all of a sudden Marie
burst into tears. He’d got it all wrong, she said; it wasn’t a bit like that really, he’d
bullied her into saying the opposite of what she meant. She knew me very well, and
she was sure I hadn’t done anything really wrong—and so on. At a sign from the
presiding judge, one of the court officers led her away, and the hearing continued.
Hardly anyone seemed to listen to Masson, the next witness. He stated that I was a
respectable young fellow; “and, what’s more, a very decent chap.” Nor did they pay
any more attention to Salamano, when he told them how kind I’d always been to his
dog, or when, in answer to a question about my mother and myself, he said that
Mother and I had very little in common and that explained why I’d fixed up for her
to enter the Home. “You’ve got to understand,” he added. “You’ve got to
understand.” But no one seemed to understand. He was told to stand down.
Raymond was the next, and last, witness. He gave me a little wave of his hand and
led off by saying I was innocent. The Judge rebuked him.
“You are here to give evidence, not your views on the case, and you must confine
yourself to answering the questions put you.”
He was then asked to make clear his relations with the deceased, and Raymond
took this opportunity of explaining that it was he, not I, against whom the dead man
had a grudge, because he, Raymond, had beaten up his sister. The judge asked him if
the deceased had no reason to dislike me, too. Raymond told him that my presence
on the beach that morning was a pure coincidence.
“How comes it then,” the Prosecutor inquired, “that the letter which led up to this
tragedy was the prisoner’s work?”
Raymond replied that this, too, was due to mere chance.
To which the Prosecutor retorted that in this case “chance” or “mere coincidence”
seemed to play a remarkably large part. Was it by chance that I hadn’t intervened
when Raymond assaulted his mistress? Did this convenient term “chance” account
for my having vouched for Raymond at the police station and having made, on that
occasion, statements extravagantly favorable to him? In conclusion he asked
Raymond to state what were his means of livelihood.
Albert Camus ʍ THE STRANGER
On his describing himself as a warehouseman, the Prosecutor informed the jury it
was common knowledge that the witness lived on the immoral earnings of women. I,
he said, was this man’s intimate friend and associate; in fact, the whole background
of the crime was of the most squalid description. And what made it even more odious
was the personality of the prisoner, an inhuman monster wholly without a moral
Raymond began to expostulate, and my lawyer, too, protested. They were told that
the Prosecutor must be allowed to finish his remarks.
“I have nearly done,” he said; then turned to Raymond. “Was the prisoner your
“Certainly. We were the best of pals, as they say.”
The Prosecutor then put me the same question. I looked hard at Raymond, and he
did not turn away.
Then, “Yes,” I answered.
The Prosecutor turned toward the jury.
“Not only did the man before you in the dock indulge in the most shameful orgies
on the day following his mother’s death. He killed a man cold-bloodedly, in
pursuance of some sordid vendetta in the underworld of prostitutes and pimps. That,
gentlemen of the jury, is the type of man the prisoner is.”
No sooner had he sat down than my lawyer, out of all patience, raised his arms so
high that his sleeves fell back, showing the full length of his starched shirt cuffs.
“Is my client on trial for having buried his mother, or for killing a man?” he asked.
There were some titters in court. But then the Prosecutor sprang to his feet and,
draping his gown round him, said he was amazed at his friend’s ingenuousness in
failing to see that between these two elements of the case there was a vital link. They
hung together psychologically, if he might put it so. “In short,” he concluded,
speaking with great vehemence, “I accuse the prisoner of behaving at his mother’s
funeral in a way that showed he was already a criminal at heart.”
These words seemed to take much effect on the jury and public. My lawyer merely
shrugged his shoulders and wiped the sweat from his forehead. But obviously he was
rattled, and I had a feeling things weren’t going well for me.
Soon after this incident the court rose. As I was being taken from the courthouse to
the prison van, I was conscious for a few brief moments of the once familiar feel of a
summer evening out-of-doors. And, sitting in the darkness of my moving cell, I
recognized, echoing in my tired brain, all the characteristic sounds of a town I’d
loved, and of a certain hour of the day which I had always particularly enjoyed. The
shouts of newspaper boys in the already languid air, the last calls of birds in the
public garden, the cries of sandwich vendors, the screech of streetcars at the steep
corners of the upper town, and that faint rustling overhead as darkness sifted down
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