Existential Symbolism in The Stranger by Albert Camus

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Existentialism sparked a craze in the 20th century; emphasizing the existence of an individual as they determine their own future. Albert Camus was a French philosopher whose writing style in most of his books were based upon this idea of existentialism. In The Stranger, Albert Camus depicts this idea of existentialism in the first person as it follows the life story of a man named Meursault. Albert Camus devoted his life to this idea of individual freedom of man. The author of The Stranger, Albert Camus, uses the symbolism of the sun, and the imagery of a first person narrator to shape his tone when describing his view of existentialism to the readers. Albert Camus is constantly using the symbolism of the Sun and Sea in The Stranger.

For example, in part one, chapter six Camus writes: And every time I felt a blast of its hot breath strike my face… I was thinking of the cool spring behind the rock. I wanted to hear the murmur of its water again, to escape the sun and the strain and the women’s tears, and to find shade and rest again at last (57). The symbol of heat and cool by Camus in The Stranger evokes a sense of anger and rage inside Meursault. Meursault walked down the sun drenched beach to a spring to cool off in. Throughout his walk down the beach, we could feel the sense of anger building up as he became hotter the longer he was on his walk. Meursault continued down the scorching beach when he was confronted by “the Arab” with a knife in his hand.

Albert Camus writes about the suns and its heat effect on the confrontation with “the Arab” on the beach. In part one, chapter six, Camus states: And this time, without getting up, the Arab drew his knife and held it up to me in the sun. The light shot off the steel and it was like a long Hashing blade cutting at my forehead. At the same instant the sweat in my eyebrows dripped down over my eyelids all at once and covered them with a warm, thick film (59). The encounter on the beach is the climax of this novel as the sun is beating down on Meursault’s head making it hard for him to stand. Camus writes how the sun reflecting off of the blade pushed Meursault forward into shooting and killing “the Arab”.

The heat had beaten him down so hard at this point that his sweat began to form a film on his eyes making it hard for him to see. The symbol of heat was building up through the whole novel finally, inflicting violence in chapter six. In part one, chapter one, Albert Camus writes about the heat of the sun affecting Meursault at his mother’s funeral. Camus writes: The sky was already filled with light. The sun was beginning to bear down on the earth and it was getting hotter by the minute… But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive (15).

From the beginning of this novel, the symbol of sun and the sea evoked this image of violence into the readers. This sense of heat during the walk is continued throughout the novel up until the confrontation with “the Arab” on the beach. The author Camus even states that this heat is inhuman and oppressive proving that the sun produces violence and death in the novel. The two times in this novel when symbol of heat is used is after his mother’s death and before the death of “the Arab” on the beach. Critic John agrees with the idea that the sun evokes a sense of violence in The Stranger. Critic John states: For example, in these essays, allusions to the sun constantly evoke a tonality of violence. Camus is assaulted and dazed by the sun… The sea features in these personal records as the constant solace, the source of refreshment in a burning climate (112).

Critic John agrees how the author Camus writes The Stranger with the idea of the sun evoking violence and the sea as refreshment. Critic John begins to show how the sun beats down on Meursault, the narrator, causing him to feel his blood pounding through his ears. On the beach when the sun is burning down on Meursault, he goes into the ocean immediately cooling him off and getting rid of his violent thoughts. In the novel The Stanger, the author, Albert Camus, uses imagery to effect the readers view of Meursault. While in the funeral home, Camus states: Two hornets were buzzing against the glass roof. I could feel myself getting sleepy.

Without turning around, I said to the caretaker, “Have you been here long?” Right away he answered, “Five years” – as if he’d been waiting all along for me to ask (7). Camus uses this imagery of Meursault becoming tired in the funeral home to allow the reader to understand Meursault’s view of life as he really wasn’t that heartbroken when his mother had passed away. In this pivotal opening scene of The Stranger, the reader begins to discern the real personality using this imagery of Meursault falling asleep. This opening scene in Chapter one proves the existentialism views of Camus portrayed through the narrator, Meursault. Camus also uses imagery through Meursault to illustrate his idea of life while he was in prison. Camus exemplifies this in part two, chapter five: If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.

That’s why I ended up sleeping only a little bit during the day and then, all night long, waited patiently for the first light to show on the pane of sky (113). Camus imagery of the sun rising in the sky in the morning is vital to the story as it puts the reader into the mindset of a distraught Meursault. Critic Cruickshank states this sense of this first person imagery stating “Meursault, by telling his own story in his own way, exemplifies the relationship which gives rise to the absurd” (118). When reading this imagery of prison, the reader begins to believe that he too is in prison and that he must find a way to pass the days by. Critic Cruickshank supports thesis by understanding the importance of the imagery in The Stranger.

Cruickshank is correct when he talks about how we view Meursault differently from the inside through Camus’s imagery. Cruickshank talks about this view of Meursault from the inside when he writes: By using Meursault to tell his own story Camus exploits fully the psychological unconventionality of The Stranger… More important, however, is the fact that it conveys a necessary sense of authentic, personal human experience existing at the very center of psychological singularity (118). I support critic Cruickshank with his interpretation of Camus’s imagery in the first person as it allows the reader with a sense of authentication as they are not receiving distorted information on Meursault from the outside looking in. This imagery communicated directly to the reader by Meursault enhances the entire novel by allowing it to be more convincing in human terms.

The first person view conveyed by Camus is perfect when describing an event that hinges on the failure to clarify. This first person narration helps to shape Camus’s tone when describing his view of existentialism to the readers. There is example of this existentialism from the first chapter in part one when Meursault has a detached response to his mother’s death. Camus writes: Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday (3). This quote supports the thesis because, the detached view of his mother displays Camus’s idea of existentialism as he is not even sure what day that his mother had passed away on. He shows no feeling of sorrow after his mother’s death and believes that it really has no difference to him.

Instead, Meursault is upset that now he has to go all the way to Marengo to attend his mother’s funeral. This detached feeling toward his mother is unusual and proves Camus’s view of existentialism. Existentialism is the belief that there is no higher power and that life ultimately has no meaning. The next quote written by Camus in Part two, Chapter five, demonstrates his view of existentialism. Camus exemplifies this: But everybody knows that life isn’t worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly wall that it doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy… Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying (114).

Camus’s idea of existentialism is partially experienced when Meursault is in prison. Camus’s writings go deep into the existential view. His belief in existence is portrayed through Meursault. Camus pushed these ideals into his reader’s minds allowing them to determine their own perspective towards existentialism. Critic Bespaloof both agrees and disagrees with the thesis when describing Camus idea of existentialism. I agree with Bespaloof’s interpretation of Camus’s existents view as Bespaloof stated: In his interpretation of existentialism revealed in both The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger, Camus attempted to deal with the problem of the absurdity of existence, the need for order and understanding in the chaos of existence (139).

Bespaloof agrees with my thesis, as he believes that Camus’s main goal in writing The Stranger was to question the absurdity of human existence. Camus used his ideas on existentialism and pushed them towards the reader hoping they would jump on his side and understand that life is up to the individual rather than God. I agree with most of Bespaloof’s points but, I don’t agree with his conclusion on the reality of The Stranger. Critic Bespaloof states: Objectivity with Camus does not strive to create an illusion of reality, for it is precisely the real which is being questioned. It strives, rather, to give the sensation of fragmentation, the incoherence of the world of a world (139).

Bespaloof’s view of Camus’s reality doesn’t agree with the thesis as the thesis states that Camus doesn’t depict a real environment. The environment used in The Stranger is not realistic as it has a ton of flaws in the story line. The story never really talks about Meursault’s childhood and what caused him to develop the existential views toward the world. The Stranger could have been more realistic if it related with the normal things people do every day. Instead, Meursault is a weird guy who can feel distant at times. Ultimately, Camus’s uses symbolism and narration to allow the reader to understand this existential view. Camus was a well-renown French existential writer, contributing several of his works, like The Stranger, in the twentieth century.

In The Stranger, Camus used symbolism of the sun and the sea to display his existential ideals. Camus also wrote The Stranger in the first person allowing the reader to understand Meursault’s perspective of the world. Camus used his symbolism of the heat, and the imagery of a first person narration to illustrate his view of existentialism to the readers.


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Existential Symbolism in The Stranger by Albert Camus. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/existential-symbolism-in-the-stranger-by-albert-camus/



How is existentialism shown in The Stranger?
Existentialism is shown in The Stranger through the protagonist's sense of isolation and detachment from society, as well as his struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. The novel also explores themes of choice, responsibility, and the absurdity of existence.
Is The Stranger existentialist or absurdist?
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice, and the inherent meaninglessness of life. Absurdism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes the inherent meaninglessness of life and the inability of humans to find purpose in it.
What are some symbols in The Stranger?
Some symbols in The Stranger include the sun, which is a symbol of happiness, and the knife, which is a symbol of violence.
What are the existential elements in The Stranger by Albert Camus?
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