In Camus’s The Stranger, Meursault, the protagonist, finds himself sentenced to death in an absurd twist of fate. For no rational reason, Meursault takes the life of an Arab, whom he does not wish to kill,
on a hot, sunny afternoon in Algiers. Through the use of imagery, Camus successfully transforms the African sun into a symbol of hostility that ultimately leads Meursault to commit murder.
Camus consistently uses the sun as a tool to represent antagonism and aggression. The author does so only in the most significant passages in the novel, such as during his mother’s funeral and the confrontation with the Arabs. This symbolism occurs in both of these scenes due to the physical response that it elicits from Meursault and the relationship between the funeral, the murder, and Meursault’s trial and conviction. One must consider the context of the symbolism in order to grasp how Camus employs the sun as the source of antagonism. For example, the sun is described as “a hostile presence… symboliz[ing] violence and destruction” (S. John, 113).
The author uses both tactile and visual imagery within the text to describe the hostile nature of the sun. By appealing to a reader’s sense of sight, Camus depicts the sun as painful to Meursault’s vision. The young man states that during his walk on the beach, “the sun was shining almost directly overhead onto the sand, and the glare on the water was unbearable” (Camus, 52). Literary critics too recognize the adverse impact of the sun. For example, S. John comments, “the incidence of images of light increases as events reach their destructive climax” (S. John, 113). Camus uses tactile imagery for the same effect with diction like “overpowering” and “heavy.” Even “the weight of the sun obstructs his progress” (S. John, 113).
The harmful influence of the sun directly leads Meursault to kill the Arab both literally and metaphorically. Before the murder, Meursault notes that “there was the same dazzling red glare… and I could feel my forehead swelling under the sun… With every blade of light that flashed off the sand… my jaws tightened” (Camus, 57). As a direct result of the sun, Meursault’s body tenses. He unwittingly pulls the trigger, firing off a single shot soon followed by four additional rounds, all striking the Arab. Thus, the sun literally forces Meursault to kill. As S. John observes, the sun metaphorically leads the Frenchman to shoot the Arab as well. The literary critic states, “the destructive act takes place under the aegis of the sun and seems to be a simple extension of its influence” (S. John). Additionally, S. John illustrates the following:
An obvious physical reference to the intense light of the sun on the sand foreshadows, in a figurative sense, the violence that is to follow. The colour of the sand under the sun’s rays suggests the shedding of blood (S. John).
By using implicit metaphor, Camus widens the influence of the sun and highlights its principal role in the murder.
According to literary critic Philip Thody, “Meursault, the central figure of The Outsider, is characterized by his complete indifference to everything except immediate physical sensations” (Thody). As a critical thinker, a reader must logically consider both the interpretations of Thody and S. John in his search for pinpointing Camus’s intentional, negative depiction of the sun. In this manner, one may infer that because Meursault is affected only by physical sensation, and the sun is the source of increasingly hostile stimuli, the sun’s influence directly causes Meursault to end the Arab’s life.