Light and Heat Imagery in The Stranger by Albert Camus

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In The Stranger by Albert Camus, the murder committed by Meursault is questionably done with no reason. Although the entirety of the second part is spent in society’s attempts to find a cause, Meursault has a durable existential mentality that proves that even he knows that there is no true reason for the crime. Through the use of light and heat imagery and diction in The Stranger, Albert Camus comments on the duality of society trying to find a cause for the murder and Meursault defying this because of his existential mentality. These elements heighten Meursault’s negative outlook on life by the end of the novel, and his final acceptance of the existential mentality.

After Meursault commits the crime in the novel, it is imperative that everyone, including him, attempts to find a cause for the murder. The light and heat imagery shows that, even as Meursault commits the crime, he already has an existential mentality; this is the core problem in society’s attempts to find reasoning for the murder, since he is in full acceptance of his actions. For example, as he is about to commit the crime, Meursault says that “most of the time, [the Arab] was just a form shimmering before [his] eyes in the fiery air” (58). This is dehumanizing the Arab that he is planning on murdering, which originates from the “fiery air.” This is also foreshadowing the existential aspects of the novel that are evident in the second part, saying that a human is nothing to him, and is insignificant enough for Meursault to have the capability to murder him. Based on this quotation, a possible “cause” for the murder could be that he was delusional from the sun, and the Arab being nothing but a “shimmering form.” This heat imagery is furthered when Meursault says, “The sun was the same as it had been the day [he] buried Maman, and like then, [his] forehead especially was hurting [him], all the veins in it throbbing under the skin” (58). The connection Meursault makes to Maman’s death shows the way both events are utterly insignificant to him; this is proven in the beginning of the novel when Meursault is going to bury Maman, and he says, “That’s partly why [he] didn’t go there much this past year, and also because it took up [his] Sunday…” (5).

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In the novel, the deaths that occur in Meursault’s life are all things he evidently does not care about, also proven by when he is burying Maman. He notices that “the sun was beginning to bear down on the earth”, and “the glare from the sky was unbearable” (15, 16), showing how his attention is solely focused on the oppressive heat. The heat is shown to be completely overpowering by the diction used in these phrases, such as how it “bears down” and the unbearable glare. The way that Meursault is overly focused on the sun and heat shows how, when he committed the crime, the sun could have played a role in the causes of the murder, even though later on he accepts the existential mentality which eventually leads to the conclusion that there is no true cause for the crime. Yet, it is evident society is still trying to find a cause, especially in part two of the novel. In part two of the novel, the existential mentality of Meursault is extended through the focus of light imagery in relation to the murder. Once the trial is about to begin, Meursault is reflecting, and says that he “moved closer to the window, and in the last light of day, [he] gazed at [his] reflection one more time… Then [he] remembered what the nurse at Maman’s funeral said. No, there was no way out, and no one can imagine what nights in prison are like” (81). The significance of this quotation lies within the fact that the light is leaving; generally, light is a sign of hope and that there is something greater to come. However, since it is “the last light of day,” the hope Meursault had is depleting, only furthering his existential outlook on his life.

This can help to show his acceptance of the crime and how his last ideas of hope are dwindling, yet no one else understands nor accepts it. When Meursault first speaks with his lawyer, he asked Meursault to say that he had held back his “natural feelings. “[Meursault] said, ‘No, because it’s not true.’ [The lawyer] gave [him] a strange look, as if he found [him] slightly disgusting” (65). Here, we see someone looking for causation, and Meursault being blunt about how there truly is not a cause for the murder. As the trial commences, the only thing Meursault notices it how “the trial opened with the sun glaring outside”, and that “despite the blinds, the sun filtered through in places and the air was already stifling” (82, 83). Both of these descriptions use diction that is very similar to the diction used to describe the heat and light on the day of the murder. This can lead to the conclusion that the only possible cause for the murder that could be justifiable for society is the heat, how oppressive it is, and how it ultimately led to his final murder of the Arab.

To juxtapose Meursault’s acceptance, Albert Camus subtly uses light imagery to tie in the prosecutor’s case against Meursault to finally try and find a cause for the crime. When he is giving his speech about Meursault’s crime being “premeditated,” he says, “’First, in the blinding clarity of the facts, and second, in the dim light cast by the mind of this criminal soul” (99). These allusions to light imagery connect the prosecutor’s case to the cause being the light/heat that day, it being in Meursault’s eyes, etc. This is also the first time in the novel when the sun is not described as overbearing and too bright; it is more of a “dim light.” Even though the prosecutor is trying to prove his point, subliminally using light imagery in his case, Meursault says that “[he] had shot the Arab as [he] planned” (99). There was no other cause than Meursault wanted to, yet everyone is still trying to find a reason; here, the reader sees Meursault admit that. This is furthered more when Meursault “blurted out that [the murder] was because of the sun” (103). Here, he is simply trying to show that he is not just a cold murderer, that maybe there is some sort of cause.

However, this is completely shut down when Camus says that “people laughed” at Meursault’s statement (103). Once Meursault has attempted to show everyone a cause, they disregard it, and do not even let him speak for himself. Even though the prosecutor uses light imagery to help he case, he refuses to accept Meursault’s admittance of the crime. After this point, Meursault has truly lost hope for his life and case, and falls into an existential mentality for the remainder of the novel. This is reflected through sun imagery, such as, “Meanwhile, the sun was getting low outside and it wasn’t as hot anymore” (105). The only time the sun gets low in the novel thus far is when hope is being drawn out from his life, and after the trial, it has completely left him. This is evidence that Meursault has gone to an existential mentality, and he has accepted it.

In The Stranger, Albert Camus uses light and heat imagery along with intense diction to depict the duality between the characters in the novel trying to find a cause for Meursault’s crime, and the way he denies a cause because of his existential mentality. It is evident through the case of the prosecutor in part two and the diction used to explain Meursault’s mentality by the end of the novel that there is not a true cause to the murder, despite society’s failed attempts at finding a cause. This only helps to reveal one of the true meanings of The Stranger: Camus’ questioning of human morality, and to what extent it can be affected by one’s mental state and outlook on life.

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Light and Heat Imagery in The Stranger by Albert Camus. (2016, Jul 02). Retrieved from

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