Christ on Trial

How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement

by Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Christ Church (Parish) Church

Westmorland Street at Charlotte, Fredericton

Facilitator: Canon Jim Irvine


“I know what you want.  You want a story that won’t surprise you.  That will confirm what you already know.  That won’t make you see higher or further or differently.  You want a flat story.  An immobile story.  You want dry, yeastless factuality.”

Pi in A Life of Pi, page 336



Mark: Voices at Midnight

Mark's account of the Trial

Master and Margarita - Bulgakov

Download PDF File 1

There is a Time for Truth


Matthew: Wisdom in Exile

Matthew's account of the Trial

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Download PDF File 2


Luke: Knocking on the Window

Luke's account of the Trial

The Outsider - Albert Camus


The Outsider, by Albert Camus • from Part II, Chapter One – The Lawyer

Immediately after my arrest I was questioned several times. But it was only a matter of finding out who I was, which didn't take long. The first time, at the police station, nobody seemed very interested in my case. A week later though, the examining magistrate eyed me with curiosity. But to start with he simply asked me my name and address, my occupation and my date and place of birth. Then he wanted to know if I'd chosen a lawyer. I confessed that I hadn’t and inquired as to whether it was absolutely necessary to have one. ‘Why do you ask?’ he said. I replied that I thought my case was very simple. He smiled and said, ‘That’s your opinion. But this is the law. If you don’t choose a lawyer yourself, we'll appoint one for you automatically.’ I thought it most convenient that the legal system should take care of such details. I told him so. He agreed and said it showed how well the law worked.

At first I didn’t take him seriously. I was shown into a curtained room, there was just one lamp on his desk which was shining on the chair where he made me sit while he himself remained in the shadow. I’d read similar descriptions in books before and it all seemed like a game. After our conversation though, I looked at him and saw a tall, fine‑featured man with deep‑set blue eyes, a long grey moustache and a mass of almost white hair. I found him very reasonable and on the whole quite pleasant, in spite of a few nervous twitches he had about the mouth. On my way out I was even going to shake his hand, but I remembered just in time that I’d killed a man.

The next day a lawyer came to see me at the prison. He was short and stout, quite young, with his hair carefully greased back. In spite of the heat (I was in my shirtsleeves), he was wearing a dark suit, a wing collar and a peculiar tie with broad black and white stripes. He put the briefcase which he had under his arm down on my bed, introduced himself and told me that he'd studied my file. My case was tricky, but he was confident of success, provided I had faith in him. I thanked him and he said, ‘Let’s get straight on with it.’

He sat down on the bed and explained that some investigations had been made into my private life. It had been discovered that my mother had died recently in a home. Enquiries had then been made at Marengo, and the magistrates had learned that I’d ‘displayed a lack of emotion’ on the day of mother's funeral. ‘You will understand,’ my lawyer said, ‘that I feel rather embarrassed at having to ask you this. But it matters a great deal. And the prosecution will have a strong case if I can’t find anything to reply.’ He wanted me to help him. He asked me if I’d felt any grief on that day. This question really surprised me and I thought how embarrassed I’d have been if I’d had to ask it. I replied though that I’d rather got out of the habit of analysing myself and that I found it difficult to answer his question. I probably loved mother quite a lot, but that didn’t mean anything. To a certain extent all normal people sometimes wished their loved ones were dead. Here the lawyer interrupted me, looking very flustered. He made me promise not to say that at the hearing, or in front of the examining magistrate. But I explained to him that by nature my physical needs often distorted my feelings. On the day of mother’s funeral I was very tired and sleepy. So I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. The only thing I could say for certain was that I’d rather mother hadn't died. But my lawyer didn’t seemed pleased. He said, ‘That’s not enough.’

He thought for a moment. Then he asked me if he could say that I’d controlled my natural feelings that day. I said, ‘No, because it’s not true.’ He looked at me in a peculiar way, as if he found me slightly disgusting. He told me almost spitefully that whatever happened the warden and staff of the home would be called as witnesses and that this ‘could make things very unpleasant for me’. I pointed out to him that none of this had anything to do with my case, but he merely replied that I had obviously never had anything to do with the law.

He left, looking angry. I’d have liked to have kept him back and explained to him that I wanted to be friends with him, not so that he’d defend me better, but, so to speak, in a natural way. The main thing was, I could tell that I made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t understand me and be rather held it against me. I wanted to assure him that I was just like everyone else, exactly like everyone else. But it was all really a bit pointless and I couldn’t be bothered.

Soon after that, I was taken to see the examining magistrate again. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and this time there was only a net curtain to soften the light which was flooding into his office. It was very hot. He made me sit down and very politely informed me that, ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’, my lawyer had been unable to come. But I was entitled not to answer his questions and to wait until my lawyer could assist me. I said I could answer for myself. He pressed a button on the table. A young clerk came and sat down right behind me.

We both sat back in our chairs. The examination began. He told me first of all that people described me as being taciturn and withdrawn and he wanted to know what I thought of that. I answered, ‘It’s just that I never have much to say. So I keep quiet.’ He smiled as before, remarked that that was the best reason and added, ‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter at all.’ He stopped talking and looked at me, then sat up rather suddenly and said very quickly, ‘What interests me is you.’ I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that and I didn’t say anything. ‘There are certain things,’ he added, ‘that puzzle me in what you did. I'm sure you'll help me to understand them.’ I told him that it was all very simple. He urged me to go over the day again. I went over what I’d already told him about: Raymond, the beach, the swim, the fight, the beach again, the little spring, the sun and the five shots. After each sentence he’d say, ‘Fine, fine.’ When I came to the outstretched body, he nodded and said, ‘Good.’ But I was tired of repeating the same story over and over again and I felt as if I’d never talked so much in all my life.

After a short silence, he stood up and told me that he wanted to help me, that I interested him and that with God’s help he would do something for me. But first, he wanted to ask me a few more questions. In the same breath, he asked me if I loved mother. I said, ‘Yes, like everyone else,’ and the clerk, who until now had been tapping away regularly at his typewriter, must have hit the wrong key, because he got in a muddle and had to go back. Still without any apparent logic, the magistrate then asked me if I’d fired all five shots at once. I thought it over and specified that I’d only fired once to start with and then, a few seconds later, the other four shots. ‘Why did you pause between the first and the second shot?’ he said. Once again I saw the red beach in front of me and felt the burning sun on my forehead. But this time I didn’t answer. Throughout the silence which followed, the magistrate looked flustered. He sat down, ran his fingers through his hair, put his elbows on his desk and leaned slightly towards me with a strange expression on his face. ‘Why, why did you fire at a dead body?’ Once again I didn’t know what to answer. The magistrate wiped his hands across his forehead and repeated his question in a slightly broken voice, ‘Why? You must tell me. Why?’ I still didn't say anything.

Suddenly he stood up, strode over to a far corner of his office and opened a drawer in a filing cabinet. He took out a silver crucifix and came back towards me brandishing it. And in an altogether different, almost trembling voice, he exclaimed, ‘Do you know who this is?’ I said, ‘Yes, naturally.’ Then he spoke very quickly and passionately, telling me that he believed in God, that he was convinced that no man was so guilty that God wouldn’t pardon him, but that he must first repent and so become like a child whose soul is empty and ready to embrace everything. He was leaning right across the table, waving his crucifix almost directly over me. To tell the truth, I hadn’t followed his argument at all well, firstly because I was hot and his office was full of huge flies which kept landing on my face, and also because he frightened me a bit. I realized at the same time that this was ridiculous because, after all, I was the criminal. But he carried on. I vaguely understood that as far as he was concerned there was only one part of my confession that didn't make sense, the fact that I’d paused before firing my second shot. The rest was all right, but this he just couldn’t understand.

I was about to tell him that he was wrong to insist on this last point: it didn’t really matter that much. But he interrupted me and pleaded with me one last time, drawing himself up to his full height and asking me if I believed in God. I said no. He sat down indignantly. He told me that it was impossible, that all men believed in God, even those who wouldn’t face up to Him. That was his belief, and if he should ever doubt it, his life would become meaningless. ‘Do you want my life to be meaningless?’ he cried. As far as I was concerned, it had nothing to do with me and I told him so. But across the table, he was already thrusting the crucifix under my nose and exclaiming quite unreasonably, ‘I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive your sins. How can you not believe that He suffered for your sake?’ I noticed that he was calling me by my first name, but I’d had enough. It was getting hotter and hotter. As I always do when I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I gave the impression that I was agreeing with him. To my surprise he was exultant. ‘You see, you see,’ he was saying, ‘you do believe and you will put your trust in Him, won’t you?’ I obviously said no again. He sank back into his chair.

He looked very tired. For a moment he said nothing while the typewriter, which had followed the entire conversation, caught up with the last few sentences. Then he looked at me intently and rather sadly. He murmured, ‘I have never seen a soul as hardened as yours. The criminals who have come to me before have always wept at the sight of this symbol of suffering.’ I was about to reply that that was precisely because they were criminals. But I realized that I was like them too. It was an idea I Just couldn’t get used to. Then the magistrate stood up, as if to indicate that the examination was over. Only he asked me in the same rather weary manner whether I regretted what I’d done. I thought it over and said that, rather than true regret, I felt a kind of annoyance. I had the impression that he didn’t understand me. But on that occasion that was as far as things went.

From then on I often went to see the examining magistrate. Only I was accompanied by my lawyer every time. I would simply be asked to clarify certain details of my previous statements. Or else the magistrate would discuss the charges with my lawyer. But actually they never took any notice of me on these occasions. Anyway, the tone of the examinations gradually changed. It seemed as if the magistrate had lost interest in me and had somehow classified my case. He didn’t talk to me about God any more and I never saw him again in such a frenzy as on that first day. The result was that our discussions became more friendly. A few questions, a short conversation with my lawyer and the examinations would be over. My case was taking its course, to use the magistrate’s own phrase. And sometimes, when the conversation was of a general nature, I would be included too. I began to breathe again. No one was unkind to me on these occasions. Everything was so natural, so well organized and so calmly acted out that l had the ridiculous impression of ‘being one of the family’. And by the end of the eleven months which this investigation lasted, I must say I was almost surprised that I’d ever enjoyed anything other than those rare moments when the magistrate would escort me to the door of his study, slap me on the shoulder and say in a friendly voice, ‘That’s all for today, Mr Antichrist.’ I would then be put back in the hands of the police.


The Outsider, by Albert Camus • from Part II, Chapter Five – The Priest

For the third time, I’ve refused to see the chaplain. I’ve got nothing to say to him, I don’t feel like talking and I’ll be seeing him soon enough as it is. What interests me at the moment is trying to escape from the mechanism, trying to find if there’s any way out of the inevitable. I’ve been moved to another cell. From this one, when I’m lying down, I can see the sky and nothing else. I spend all day watching its complexion darken as day turns to night. I lie here with my hands under my head and wait. I don’t know how many times I’ve wondered whether there have ever been instances of condemned prisoners escaping from the implacable machinery, disappearing before the execution or breaking through the police cordon. I’d reproach myself every time for not having paid enough attention to stories of executions. You should always take an interest in these things. You never know what might happen. Like everyone else I’d read newspaper reports. But there must have been special books which I’d never been curious enough to refer to. That was where I might have found stories of people who’d escaped. I might have discovered that there’d been at least one occasion when the wheel had stopped, that amongst so much that was inexorable and premeditated, chance or luck had just once managed to change something. Once! In a way, I think that would have been enough. My heart would have done the rest. The papers often talked about a debt being owed to society. According to them, it had to be paid. But that hardly appeals to the imagination. The vital thing was that there be a chance of escaping, of breaking out of this implacable ritual, of making a mad dash for it which would admit every possible hope. Naturally, that hope was of being shot down at a street corner, in full flight, and by a bullet from nowhere. But when I really thought about it, there was nothing to permit me such a luxury, everything was set against it, and I was caught in the mechanism again.

Willing as I was, I just couldn't accept such an absolute certainty. Because after all, the actual sentence which had established it was ridiculously out of proportion with its unshakeable persistence ever since the moment when that sentence had been passed. The fact that the sentence had been read out at eight o’clock rather than at five o’clock, and the fact that it might have been completely different, and that it had been decided upon by men who change their underwear, and that it had been credited to so vague an entity as the French (or German, or Chinese) people, all these things really seemed to detract considerably from the seriousness of such a decision. And yet I had to admit that from the very second it was taken, its consequences became just as certain, just as serious, as the fact that I was lying there flat against that wall.

At times like this I remembered a story that mother used to tell me about my father. I never met him. Perhaps the only thing I really knew about the man was this story that mother used to tell me: he’d gone to watch a murderer being executed. He’d felt ill at the thought of going. He had though and when he’d got back he’d been sick half the morning. My father disgusted me a bit at the time. But now I understood, it was completely natural. I don’t know how I hadn’t realized before that nothing was more important than executions and that, in actual fact, they were the only thing a man could really be interested in! If I ever got out of this prison, I’d go and watch all the executions there were. But I think I was wrong even to consider the possibility. For at the thought of being a free man standing there early in the morning behind a police cordon, on the other side as it were, and of being one of the spectators who come and watch and can be sick afterwards, my heart would suddenly be poisoned by a great flood of joy. But it was irrational. I was wrong to let myself make these suppositions because the next second I’d feel so dreadfully cold that it would make me curl up inside my blanket. My teeth would be chattering uncontrollably.

But naturally, you can’t always be rational. At other times, for example, I’d work out new legal policies. I’d reform the punishment system. I’d realized that the essential thing was to give the condemned man a chance. Even one in a thousand was quite enough to sort things out. For instance, I imagined that they could find some chemical compound for the patient to take (I thought of him as the patient) which would kill him nine times out of ten. He would know this, that was the condition. Because when I really thought about it and considered things calmly, I could see that what was wrong with the guillotine was that you had no chance at all, absolutely none. In fact it had been decided once and for all that the patient would die. It was a classified fact, a firmly fixed arrangement, a definite agreement which there was no question of going back on. In the unlikely event of something going wrong, they just started again. Consequently, the annoying thing was that the condemned man had to hope that the machine worked properly. I say this is what's wrong with the system. That's true in a way. But in another way, I had to admit that it also possessed the whole secret of good organization. After all, the condemned man was obliged to lend moral support. It was in his interest that everything should go off without a hitch.

I was also made to realize that up until then I’d had mistaken ideas about these things. I’ve always thought – I don’t know why – that to get to the guillotine you had to climb onto a scaffold, up some steps. I think it was because of the 1789 Revolution, I mean because of everything I’d been shown or taught about these things. But one morning I remembered seeing a photograph which had appeared in the papers at the time of a famous execution. In actual fact, the machine stood flat on the ground, as ordinary as anything. And it was much narrower than I’d thought. It was funny that it hadn’t occurred to me before. The machine in this picture had struck me because it looked so immaculate and gleaming, like a precision instrument. You always get exaggerated ideas of things you know nothing about. I was made to realize that on the contrary everything was quite simple: the machine is on the same level as the man who’s walking towards it. He goes up to it just as you would go to meet another person. That was annoying too. Climbing up into the sky to mount the scaffold was something the imagination could hang on to. Whereas, once again, the mechanism demolished everything: they killed you discreetly and rather shamefacedly but extremely accurately.

There were two other things I was always thinking about: the dawn and my appeal. I’d try to be rational though and not think about them any more. I’d stretch out and look at the sky and force myself to take an interest in it. It would turn green and I’d know it was evening. I’d make another effort to divert my thoughts. I’d listen to my heart. I couldn’t imagine that this noise which had been with me for so long could ever stop. I’ve never really had much imagination. And yet I’d try to envisage a particular moment when the beating of my heart would no longer be going on inside my head. But in vain. Either the dawn or my appeal would still be there. And I’d end up telling myself that the most rational thing was not to hold myself back.

They came at dawn, I knew that. In fact I spent every night just waiting for the dawn to come. I’ve never liked being surprised. When something's happening to me, I’d rather be around. That’s why I ended up only sleeping for a bit during the day, while all through the night I waited patiently for the dawn to break above the skylight. The most difficult part was that in‑between time when I knew they usually operated. Once it was past midnight, I’d be waiting, listening. Never before had my cars picked up so many noises or detected such tiny sounds. I must say though that in a way I was lucky throughout that period in that I never once heard footsteps. Mother often used to say that you're never altogether unhappy. And lying there in my prison when the sky turned red and a new day slid into my cell, I’d agree with her. Because I could just as easily have heard footsteps and my heart could have burst. For even though the faintest rustle would send me flying to the door and even though, with my ear pressed to the wood, I’d wait there frantically until I could hear my own breathing and be terrified to find it so hoarse, like a dog’s death‑rattle, my heart wouldn’t burst after all and I’d have gained another twenty‑four hours.

All through the day there was my appeal. I think I made the most of that idea. I’d calculate my assets so as to get the best return on my thoughts. I’d always assume the worst: my appeal had been dismissed. ‘Well, then I’ll die.’ Sooner than other people, obviously. But everybody knows that life isn’t worth living. And when it came down to it, I wasn’t unaware of the fact that it doesn’t matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy since, in either case, other men and women will naturally go on living, for thousands of years even. Nothing was plainer, in fact. It was still only me who was dying, whether it was now or in twenty years’ time. At that point the thing that would rather upset my reasoning was that I’d feel my heart give this terrifying leap at the thought of having another twenty years to live. But I just had to stifle it by imagining what I’d be thinking in twenty years’ time when I'd have to face the same situation anyway. Given that you’ve got to die, it obviously doesn’t matter exactly how or when. Therefore (and the difficult thing was not to lose track of all the reasoning which that ‘therefore’ implied), therefore, I had to accept that my appeal had been dismissed.

At that point, and only at that point, I’d as it were have the right, I’d so to speak give myself permission to consider the alternative hypothesis: I was pardoned. The annoying thing was that somehow I’d have to control that burning rush of blood which would make my eyes smart and my whole body delirious with joy. I’d have to do my best to restrain this outburst, to be rational about it. I’d have to remain calm even about this hypothesis, in order to make my resignation to the first one more plausible. When I’d managed it, I’d have gained an hour’s respite. That was something anyway.

It was at one such moment that I refused yet again to see the chaplain. I was lying down and I could tell from a slight glow in the summer sky that evening was approaching. I’d just dismissed my appeal and I could feel the regular pulse of my blood circulating inside me. I had no need to see the chaplain. For the first time in ages I thought of Marie. She hadn’t written to me for days on end. That evening I thought it over and I told myself that she’d probably got tired of being a condemned man’s mistress. It also crossed my mind that she might have been ill or dead. It was in the natural order of things. And how would I have known when, now that we were physically separated, there was nothing left to keep us together or to remind us of each other. Anyway, from that point on, Marie’s memory would have meant nothing to me. I wasn’t interested in her any more if she was dead. I found that quite normal just as I could quite well understand that people would forget about me once I was dead. They had nothing more to do with me. I couldn’t even say that this was hard to accept.

It was at that precise moment that the chaplain walked in. A slight shiver went through me when I saw him. He noticed it and told me not to be afraid. I replied that he usually came at a different time. He told me that it was just a friendly visit and had nothing to do with my appeal which he knew nothing about. He sat down on my bunk and invited me to sit next to him. I refused. All the same, I found him quite pleasant.

He sat there for a moment, with his forearms on his knees, looking down. at his hands. They were slim and muscular and they looked like a pair of nimble animals. He rubbed them slowly together. Then he sat like that, still looking down, for so long that for a second I thought I’d forgotten he was there.

But suddenly he raised his head and looked me in the face. ‘Why do you refuse to see me?’ he said. I replied that I didn’t believe in God. He wanted to know whether I was quite sure about that and I said I had no reason for asking myself that question: it didn’t seem to matter. He then leant back against the wall, with his hands flat on his thighs. Almost as if he were talking to himself, he remarked that sometimes you think you're sure when really you’re not. I didn’t say anything. He looked at me and asked, ‘What do you think?’ I replied that it was possible. In any case, I may not have been sure what really interested me, but I was absolutely sure what didn’t interest me. And what he was talking about was one of the very things that didn’t interest me.

He looked away and, still without changing position, asked me if I weren’t talking like that out of utter despair.

I explained to him that I wasn’t in despair. I was simply afraid, which was only natural. ‘In that case, God would help you,’ he said. ‘Every man that I’ve known in your position has turned towards Him.’ I remarked that that was up to them. It also proved that they could spare the time. As for me, I didn’t want anyone to help me and time was the very thing I didn’t have for taking an interest in what didn’t interest me.

At that point he made an irritated gesture, but then he sat up and straightened the folds of his gown. When he’d finished, he spoke to me, addressing me as ‘my friend’: it wasn’t because I was condemned to death that he was talking to me like that; in his opinion, we were all condemned to death. But I interrupted him by saying that it wasn’t the same thing and that anyway, this could never be any consolation. ‘Admittedly,’ he agreed. ‘But if you don’t die now, you’ll die later. And the same problem will arise. How are you going to face up to that terrifying ordeal?’ I replied that I’d face up to it exactly as I was facing up to it now.

He stood up when I said that and looked me straight in the eye. It was a game I knew well. I often used to play it with Emmanuel or Celeste and generally they’d look away. The chaplain knew the game well too, I could tell immediately: his gaze never faltered. His voice didn’t falter either when he said, ‘Have you really no hope at all and do you live in the belief that you are to die outright?’ ‘Yes,’ I said.

He then lowered his head and sat down again. He told me that he pitied me. He thought it was more than a man could bear. All I knew was that he was beginning to annoy me. I turned away as well and went and stood under the skylight. I was leaning my shoulder against the wall. Without really following what he was saying, I heard him start asking me questions again. He was talking in an anxious and insistent voice. I realized that he was getting emotional and I listened more carefully.

He was expressing his certainty that my appeal would be allowed, but I was burdened with a sin from which I must free myself. According to him, human justice was nothing and divine justice was everything. I pointed out that it was the former which had condemned me. He replied that it hadn’t washed away my sin for all that. I told him I didn’t know what a sin was. I’d simply been told that I was guilty. I was guilty and I was paying for it and there was nothing more that could be asked of me. At that point he stood up again and I realized that in such a narrow cell, if he wanted to move, he didn’t have much choice. He either had to stand up or sit down.

I was staring at the ground. He took a step towards me and stopped, as if he didn’t dare come any closer. He was looking up at the sky through the bars. ‘You’re mistaken, my son,’ he said, ‘there is more that could be asked of you. And it may well be asked of you.’ ‘And what’s that?’ ‘You could be asked to see.’ ‘To see what?’

The priest looked all around him and replied in a voice which suddenly sounded extremely weary, ‘I know how the suffering oozes from these stones. I’ve never looked at them without a feeling of anguish. But deep in my heart I know that even the most wretched among you have looked at them and seen a divine face emerging from the darkness. It is that face which you are being asked to see.’

I woke up a bit. I told him that I’d been looking at these walls for months. There wasn't anything or anyone in the world I knew better. Maybe, a long time ago, I had looked for a face in them. But that face was the colour of the sun and burning with desire: it was Marie’s face. I’d looked for it in vain. Now it was all over. And in any case, I’d never seen anything emerging from any oozing stones.

The chaplain looked at me almost sadly. By now I had my back right up against the wall and my forehead was bathed in light. He said a few words which I didn’t hear and then asked me very quickly if I’d let him kiss me. ‘No,’ I said. He turned and walked over to the wall and ran his hand slowly across it. ‘Do you really love this earth as much as that?’ he murmured. I didn’t answer.

He stayed facing the wall for quite a long time. I found his presence tiresome and aggravating. I was about to tell him to go away and leave me alone when suddenly he had a sort of outburst and turned towards me exclaiming, ‘No, I can’t believe you. You must surely at some time have wished for another life.’ I replied that naturally I had, but that it meant nothing more than wishing I was rich or could swim fast or had a better‑shaped mouth. It was the same kind of thing. But he stopped me because he wanted to know how I imagined this other life. So I shouted at him, ‘One which would remind me of this life,’ and in the same breath I told him that I’d had enough. He started talking to me about God again, but I went up to him and made one last attempt to explain to him that I didn’t have much time left. I didn’t want to waste it on God. He tried to change the subject by asking me why I wasn’t calling him ‘father’. That irritated me and I told him that he wasn’t my father: he was on the same side as the others.

‘No, my son,’ he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.

‘I’m on your side. But you can’t see that because your heart is blind. I shall pray for you.’

Then, for some reason, something exploded inside me. I started shouting at the top of my voice and I insulted him and told him not to pray for me. I’d grabbed him by the collar of his cassock. I was pouring everything out at him from the bottom of my heart in a paroxysm of joy and anger. He seemed so certain of everything, didn’t he? And yet none of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman’s head. He couldn’t even be sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man. I might seem to be empty‑handed. But I was sure of myself, sure of everything, surer than he was, sure of my life and sure of the death that was coming to me. Yes, that was all I had. But at least it was a truth which I had hold of just as it had hold of me. I’d been right, I was still right, I was always right. I’d lived in a certain way and I could just as well have lived in a different way. I’d done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done one thing whereas I had done another. So what? It was as if I’d been waiting all along for this very moment and for the early dawn when I’d be justified. Nothing, nothing mattered and I knew very well why. He too knew why. From the depths of my future, throughout the whole of this absurd life I’d been leading, I’d felt a vague breath drifting towards me across all the years that were still to come, and on its way this breath had evened out everything that was then being proposed to me in the equally unreal years I was living through. What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me, what did his God or the lives people chose or the destinies they selected matter to me, when one and the same destiny was to select me and thousands of millions of other privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. Didn’t he understand? Everyone was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others too would be condemned one day. He too would be condemned. What did it matter if he was accused of murder and then executed for not crying at his mother’s funeral? Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as his wife. The little automatic woman was just as guilty as the Parisian woman Masson had married or as Marie who wanted me to marry her. What did it matter that Raymond was just as much my mate as Celeste who was worth more than him? What did it matter that Marie now had a new Meursault to kiss? Didn’t he understand that he was condemned and that from the depths of my future ... I was choking with all this shouting. But already the chaplain was being wrested from me and the warders were threatening me. He calmed them though and looked at me for a moment in silence. His eyes were full of tears. Then he turned away and disappeared.

Once he was gone, I felt calm again. I was exhausted and I threw myself onto my bunk. I think I must have fallen asleep because I woke up with stars shining on my face. Sounds of the countryside were wafting in. The night air was cooling my temples with the smell of earth and salt. The wondrous peace of this sleeping summer flooded into me. At that point, on the verge of daybreak, there was a scream of sirens. They were announcing a departure to a world towards which I would now be forever indifferent. For the first time in a very long time I thought of mother. I felt that I understood why at the end of her life she’d taken a ‘fiance’ and why she’d pretended to start again. There at the home, where lives faded away, there too the evenings were a kind of melancholy truce. So close to death, mother must have felt liberated and ready to live her life again. No one, no one at all had any right to cry over her. And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.


From the Afterword

So one wouldn’t be far wrong in seeing The Outsider as the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions, agrees to die for the truth. I also once said, and again paradoxically, that I tried to make my character represent the only Christ that we deserve. It will be understood, after these explanations, that I said it without any intention of blasphemy but simply with the somewhat ironic affection that an artist has a right to feel towards the characters he has created.

Albert Camus, 8 January 1955


Albert Camus, The Outsider

Penguin Books

Translation copyright © Joseph Laredo, 1982

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John: Home and Away

John's account of the Trial

The Trial - Franz Kafka

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Our Witness: Believers on Trial

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Koelz - Thou Shalt Not Kill

Ashes to Easter

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