Plague and Terror, Priest and Atheist
3. The Outsider – Convicted of Matricide 35
35 CHAPTER 3 The Outsider – Convicted of Matricide A frequently asked question about The Outsider (L’Étranger) is this: on what grounds was Meursault sentenced to decapitation rather than to a limited prison term, or exile? There was never any doubt that he would be found guilty of some serious offence, because he had pleaded guilty to shooting the Arab to death, but it could have been less serious than willful murder – say, unlawful killing with extenu- ating circumstances. It has occasionally been disputed that the severity of the finding was due to his showing no respect for or share in common morality, as witnessed by his failure to manifest any sign of grief or mourning over his mother’s death in the rest home, but I think Camus makes it quite obvious that was the reason for the sentence. During the trial the prosecutor claimed that the evidence of the rest home’s caretaker that Meursault had smoked cigarettes and drunk white coffee during the formal vigil over his mother’s body was ‘nothing less than damning evidence.’ The defence lawyer exclaimed: ‘But after all, is he being accused of burying his mother or killing a man?’ The prosecutor replied that between two such actions there existed a profound, tragic and vital relationship. ‘Yes,’ he exclaimed vehemently, ‘I accuse this man of burying his mother like a heartless criminal.’ This pronouncement seemed to have a considerable effect on the public (p. 93).1 1 Albert Camus, The Outsider. Translated from...
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