All of a sudden he jerked his head up and looked me in the eyes. “Why,” he asked, “don’t you let me come to see you?” I explained that I didn’t believe in God. “Are you really so sure of that?”
Meursault recalls his exchange with the chaplain, who enters his cell, unannounced and uninvited. Readers learn that the chaplain visited before, and Meursault refused to cooperate during those instances, too. Like other characters in the novel, the chaplain represents the people in the world who believe in something, specifically in God, and also in love, hope, empathy, passion—the human emotions that Meursault appears to lack. Meursault’s violent reaction might indicate a resistance to attaining such awareness.
He fluttered his hands fretfully; then, sitting up, smoothed out his cassock. When this was done he began talking again, addressing me as “my friend.” It wasn’t because I’d been condemned to death, he said, that he spoke to me in this way. In his opinion every man on the earth was under sentence of death.
Meursault describes the chaplain’s final moments in his cell. The chaplain offers comfort to Meursault by suggesting that God can help him. But Meursault replies that he does not feel despair, but rather fear, which religion cannot address. This conversation, which focuses on hope and death, occurs during the final chapter of the novel, presenting a major theme for readers to digest long after reading concludes.
His presence was getting more and more irksome, and I was on the point of telling him to go, and leave me in peace, when all of a sudden he swung round on me, and burst out passionately: “No! No! I refuse to believe it. I’m sure you’ve often wished there was an afterlife.”
Meursault describes his argument with the chaplain in his cell. His annoyance with the chaplain builds to outright anger and violence, but the priest does not stop his efforts to change Meursault’s mind and heart. The chaplain’s words, however, sound scripted, not a personal response to Meursault as an individual. Later, Meursault accuses the priest of being horribly cocksure of himself, yet readers note Meursault feels far surer than the priest. He calls the priest a corpse who remains too deeply immersed in his abstract religious precepts to be sure if he is even alive.
I hurled insults at him, I told him not to waste his rotten prayers on me; it was better to burn than to disappear. I’d taken him by the neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage, I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain.
Meursault describes his verbal and physical attack on the chaplain. In this moment, he feels and exhibits more emotion and engagement than in any other moment in the novel. He reacts to the priest’s sermonizing, in particular to the promise that he would pray for him. Meursault believes that no amount of prayer matters, and rather than comfort, he feels outrage at such an offer.
I had been shouting so much that I’d lost my breath, and just then the jailers rushed in and started trying to release the chaplain from my grip. One of them made as if to strike me. The chaplain quietened them down, then gazed at me for a moment without speaking. I could see tears in his eyes. Then he turned and left the cell. Once he’d gone, I felt calm again.
Meursault describes losing his temper with the chaplain, even attacking him in his cell. In his anger, Meursault articulates his truest beliefs that nothing matters and that there is no god. The scene summarizes that, according to Meursault, whether you are Salamano’s dog or Salamano’s wife, everything comes to the same thing in the end. Only the sunlight, the heat, the vivid details of experience, and the certainty of death possess significance and meaning.