What is the importance/symbolism of the sun and the heat in The Stranger?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When evaluating the significance of the sun in Camus' The Stranger, we might focus on the connection between the day of the funeral (when Mersault's mother is buried) and the day that Mersault commits the murder. 

On each of these days the sun is mentioned as being very hot, oppressive, and even painful. 

We might conjecture that when Mersault encounters the extreme heat/sun on the beach he is (consciously or unconsciously) reminded of his mother's death and burial. The latter sections of the novel offer ample suggestion that Mersault is affected by his experiences (like his mother's death and his affection for Marie) even though he denies that these experiences are influencing him.

The espoused emotional and intellectual neutrality of Mersault's narration of his own psyche is brought into question by contrasting examples of deeply felt emotion and keenly observed, very human turmoil.

The second part of the novel deals with Mersault's denial of an inner life and the ramifications of this denial are indirectly examined in this section. However indirect the treatment of this idea may be, the notion that Mersault's actions are connected to an emotional inner-life is repeatedly suggested by almost all the characters that Mersault encounters in Part 2. Thus, while Mersault maintains an inner-dialogue that consistently denies emotional causes for his behavior, the novel creates a significant sense of doubt as to Mersault's ability to understand himself. 

His behavior may be, ultimately, outside of his own control. His impulses may be inspired by emotional connections (such as the sun-mother's-death connection) that he either does not see, does not understand, or is unwilling to consider. The justice system's attempts to apply a strict morality to a person like this (who does not recognize his own emotional/psychological state of being) begins to illuminate Camus' notion of the absurd at work in The Stranger. 

In any event, the sun is powerfully present when Mersault's mother is buried as well as on the day of the murder. The meaning of this connection and this symbolism is, perhaps, open to interpretation. The coincidence cited here may be intended to be understood as just that - a meaningless coincidence.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

With a novelized philosophical statement of this sort, it is best to neglect or abandon the shallow Jungian symbolism of the sun as energy, heat, light source (although an argument could be made concerning the glare and mirage-making environment that might have contributed to Mersault’s mental condition).  More fruitful is the contrast between the Algerian social environment and the European social presumptions.  This is much more complex a contrast, and one that works vitally with the purely existential notion of denying a pre-designed plan in favor of an “invention” by Man’s choices.  Mersault “chose” to kill, however obscure those motives (including mindlessness), and then lives the “consequences” of that choice, no-one’s “plan.  The whole novel hinges on the first line:  “Mother died today.  Or maybe yesterday.”  This small admission of the vagueness and unimportance of so-called “knowledge” begins Camus’ exploration of “guilt,” consequence, legality, etc.  The sun and heat simply serve to define this “foreign” mise-en-scene, and alienate Mersault from “normalcy"; he is a “stranger” in this sun-soaked world and therefore unsure of the “moral” rules.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial