The importance of Heat in The Outsider and Like Water for Chocolate

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The importance of Heat in The Outsider and Like Water for Chocolate

Hudson Liao


May 2009

Mulgrave Independent School


Word Count: 1,415

The presiding judge in Albert Camus’ The Outsider wants to find meaning behind Meursault’s ‘unimaginable’ killing of an Arab.  He asks the prisoner what made him shoot an innocent man?  Meursault, ‘overcome by the heat,’ tries to explain he ‘had no intention of killing the Arab’ and adds that ‘it was because of the sun.’ His answer makes no sense to the judge and even sounds ‘nonsensical’ to Meursault, but the sun and its heat and light tell us what kind of emotional state Meursault is in when he pulls the trigger.  Instead of telling us that he feels anger or passion and other of emotions, Camus shows us the degree of emotion in Meursault through the references to heat and its different intensities.  We learn about this character through how much he notices the heat.  Similarly, Laura Esquivel, the author of Like Water for Chocolate conveys Tita’s passionate nature mainly through the use of heat in her cooking. The metaphor of heat in Like water for Chocolate symbolizes Tita’s emotional state of love and passion for Pedro: ‘Yes, a thousand times. From that night on she would love him forever.’ Both novels show us the emotional state of the protagonists when they introduce heat into the stories.

The warm sun tells us Meursault is feeling peaceful and calm.  When he relaxes with his girlfriend Marie on a raft in the water, ‘the air was pleasantly warm.’ The sun gets a little hotter so they jump in for a swim.  The water is refreshing and the sun is not too hot, so Meursault is comfortable with Marie. The next time they go to the beach, the blue sky had ‘the hard, metallic glint it gets on very hot days.’ The day heats up but he is still relaxed, and he lies on the sand where he is ‘basking in the sunlight’ which makes him ‘feel much better.’ He joins Marie for a swim and still feels good in his environment near the beach and pool: ‘The water was cold and I felt all the better for it.’ He is enjoying the ‘pleasant feeling’ and says ‘our movements matched, hers and mine,’ and they are ‘both in the same mood, enjoying every moment.’ When the sun is not too intense and the water is refreshing, Meursault feels balanced and happy in his life.

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Meursault’s level of comfort changes, however, as the day progresses and the sun gets hotter.  When Raymond, Masson and Meursault go for a walk on the beach ‘the light was almost vertical and the glare from the water seared one’s eyes.’ The ‘heat was welling up from the rocks, and one could hardly breathe.’ All he can think of is the heat from the sun: ‘all that sunlight beating down on my bare head made me feel half asleep.’ With Marie his ‘senses tingled,’ but with the men he feels ‘slightly muzzy.’ When they see the two Arabs, Meursault tells us things ...

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