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Symbolism in Albert Camus' The Stranger

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Introduction

Albert Camus' The Stranger1 is a literary classic renowned for its display of the philosophy of absurdism. In order to convey this concept, many literary techniques were used, but in particular, Camus made great use of the sun and heat as symbols of belligerence and frustration and of darkness as a symbol of comfort and peace. Furthermore, the sun also functions as a symbol of society's efforts to exert its control over those who do not conform to its ideals. Though the sun is often used as a representation of vividness and life, while darkness is used to represent concepts like fear and hostility, Camus utilized them to create an opposite effect. Through his departure from stereotypical usages of the sun and darkness, Camus is efficiently able to convey his absurdist beliefs. Throughout several sections of The Stranger, Camus utilizes the sun and heat as representations of hostility and vexation. We see this early in the novel, during Maman's funeral, where "the sun [was] bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat" (15). Camus' usage of imagery helps establish the sun's deleteriousness, depicting it as an ensnaring force to Meursault. He feels that "the glare from the sky was unbearable" and it "[makes] it hard for [him] to see or think straight" (16-17). ...read more.

Middle

More importantly, both of these times are when society also attempts to exert its influence. Society expects Meursault to feel remorse over his mother's death, and similarly to feel guilty for his recent actions. So, Meursault's killing of the Arab can also be seen as an attempt to break free, albeit momentarily, of societal rule. Camus once more conveys the sun negatively during Meursault's trial. As with his mother's funeral and his altercation with the Arab, this, too, is an instance where societal influence is strong. During the trial, Meursault remarks, "But it went on much longer... so long, in fact, that all I was aware of was how hot a morning it was," and, "My head was spinning with heat and astonishment" (101, 102). The trial, thus, functions as a symbol of society, always searching for logic and meaning behind every action. When they can find no such things in Meursault's morally ambiguous persona, they deem him a threat, and seek to eliminate him. The judge rules that, "[Meursault] has no place in a society whose most fundamental rules [he] ignored and that [he] could not appeal to the same human heart whose elementary response [he] knew nothing of" (102). Because Meursault is amoral - he is neither moral nor immoral, but rather chooses to base his actions on his physical needs and desires - he feels overwhelmed by the scathing heat -- society's judgment -- in the courtroom. ...read more.

Conclusion

In this passage, Camus utilizes images of darkness and wind to represent Meursault's complete characterization. Whereas Meursault had previously lived a happy, albeit passive, life, he now fully understands and accepts the absurdity of his life. Through Meursault's loathing of the sun and heat, and appreciation toward darkness, we now fully comprehend that Meursault is neither a good nor bad person. Instead, he merely bases his life and actions on tangible desires. Society, unable to comprehend his indifferent character, immediately labels him a threat, and thus seeks to get rid of him. Though society ultimately succeeds, Meursault sees his execution "in the dark hour before dawn" as comforting, and happily escapes the boundaries society has created in the form of rationality and order (122). Using sunlight and heat as symbols of societal hostility and darkness as a comforting ally, Camus is able to convey his absurdist notions. Camus illustrates the sun as a representation of confinement and hostility, and uses darkness to represent tranquility. By doing so, he has successfully managed to make us question established norms, a theme primarily conveyed through his character Meursault. Through his usage of symbolism, we, unlike the society depicted in the novel, are coerced into understanding the ideas of absurdism before we are able to place judgment. 1 All subsequent quotations taken from The Stranger; (c) 1989 by Albert Camus, Vintage Books, New York, NY 000456-015, ...read more.

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