Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But what if justice itself is the cause of injustice? Throughout Albert Camus’ The Stranger, justice constantly defies the very ideas upon which it is established–ideas of truth and equitability–and thus betrays Meursault, a simple-minded victim of the system, by punishing him for his honesty, and even eccentricity, and stripping him of the right to take charge of his own life.
After Meursault’s arrest, those responsible for upholding justice constantly dismiss Meursault’s sincere recollections of his past and alas condemn the “guilty” for his genuinity. Consider the scene when the examining magistrate waves his “crucifix almost directly over [Meursault’s] head” and attempts to evoke a religious revival within Meursault. Because Meursault does not succumb to the magistrate’s pressure and denies his acceptance of God, he is reprimanded for his “hardened” soul and lessened to but an almost inhumane being, or as the examiner calls him, the “antichrist.” The type of harsh treatment Meursault receives for refusing to give in to the pressure attests to the narrow-minded nature of those reviewing Meursault’s case–those who believe that there exists only one true path of righteousness–and therefore the bias inherent in the justice system. Similarly, when the court nears its final judgement on the case, Meursault exclaims that “it was the sun” that led him to murder the Arab. The court mockingly laughs. Though truthful, Meursault’s confession still seems absurd and incomprehensible for those in the courtroom, who refuse to believe in anything but their already perceived knowledge. The jurors resultingly misjudge the genuinity of Meursault’s argument and resist efforts to trust in any reasoning that strays from “sense”–an indication of a considerable flaw in the system. Justice, as demonstrated by the court, is limited in its scope–it may provide equitable judgements for those who fall under the “normal” standards of society, but when presented with more eccentric cases and individuals, justice-servers, lawyers and jurors, fail to readjust themselves to the unique circumstances presented to them. Ironically, Meursault’s main fault seems to be his sincerity; he rejects any opportunity he is given to deviate from the truth, and accordingly he is condemned for his moral standing.
Meursault’s prosecution, and even defense, defies the ideals of justice–ideals thought to enable an individual to a fair, unbiased trial–and deprives the convicted of his basic rights to express himself. Nearing the end of his trial, Meursault frustratedly declares, “Everything was happening without my participation. My fate was being decided without anyone so much as asking my opinion.” As apparent, the courtsmen completely throw Meursault’s fate out of his own hands and take control over the entirety of the case, believing that they, better than he, can judge Meursault’s character and evaluate his “humanness.” Without any suggestion or opinion from the convicted man himself, each side of the trial delineates their own partiality against Meursault–the prosecutor judges Meursault based on his external facade of indifference, the defense harbors his own dislike of the convicted, and the jury simply regurgitates the inadequate evaluations presented to them. Ultimately, the court relies not on Meursault’s reality of events but on their conscious and unconscious bias against Meursault. Therefore the court, blinded by an overconfidence of power, overestimates its ability to adhere to the sort of justness it strives to uphold. The “justice” applied to Meursault’s case, consequently, is neither equitable nor impartial. Furthermore, Meursault continuously claims there is “no way out,” no way to escape “the machinery of justice.” In short, justice incarcerates Meursault–he is jailed within its four walls. The machine-like nature of justice denies its victims any levity or fluctuation in trial, and in essence, expects those convicted to readjust themselves accordingly, which Meursault fails to do. Instead, Meursault relies on his blunt honesty and expects those who judge him to understand his seemingly simple intentions. However, the court barely gives Meursault any opportunities within his own trial to express his opinion without the court’s disbelief or disapproval. As a result, even if he had more chances to express his own perspectives, Meursault would still suffer from biased judgements of those who already doubt him and have doubted him from the start.
Justice constantly ransacks Meursault by contradicting the set of ideals upon which it is founded. Thus, Meursault is chastised for his honesty and forgotten in the decision to seal his fate. Thus, justice betrays him. Maybe the answer to this inequity lies not in asking for justice from others but finding it within ourselves instead.