Role of the Sun in Albert Camus' The Stranger
In various forms of expressions, including art, song, and writing, the sun is portrayed as an entity of happiness and warmth. It is seen as the juxtaposition to darkness and misery. Examples of such use pervade today’s contemporary songs and artworks, including Sheryl Crow’s single “Soak up the Sun” and Claude Monet’s “Sunrise.” While Albert Camus’ The Stranger is unique in its own rite, its use of the sun as an agent of frustration and irrationalism is virtually unheard of. In The Stranger, Camus conveys the sun to be an aggressor and amplifier for Meursault’s feelings of anxiety and restlessness by describing the antagonistic environment it creates, the fact that it is a direct instigator to the murder, and Meursault’s reactions to its influence that compel him to act on impulse and kill the Arab.
The hostile environment created by the sun is indicative of its role in the murder as an instigator. Meursault repeatedly mentions the “hot sand underfoot,” suggesting that he was annoyed with the sun long before any notion of murder. Furthermore, the sun adds tension to his surroundings by “shining almost directly overhead onto the sand,” creating unfavorable circumstances that Meursault clearly detests. Later on, as the men near confrontation with the Arabs, the main character notes that “the sun looked red to [him] now,” ominously indicating that a gruesome events were to come. His repetition of the sun’s undesirable influence on the physical world around him emphasizes a possible instability in the future. Indeed, the “glint off “Raymond’s gun” ultimately ties the sun to the murder itself. If that were not enough of an implication, the “intensity of the heat” that was “pressing on his back” further drives Meursault to act irrationally.
The sun is personified in Chapter 6 as a villainous aggressor that pushes Meursault towards committing regrettable actions. Such an example of its hostility is seen long before he even arrives at the beach, when “the day, already bright with sun, hit [him] like a slap in the face.” This is the first indication that the sun itself played a key role in the murder of the Arab, pushing Meursault to pursue the unspeakable act. At the beach, the sun “beat’s down on [Meursault’s] bear head,” hinting that it purposefully instigates him. In fact, the sun’s presence is observed in Meursault’s train of thought in the moments leading up to the murder as well, only in a more intensified version. The “heat pressing down on [Meursault],” as well as the sun’s “hot breath,” prods him to pull the trigger. He claims that the “sun was starting to burn his cheeks,” further emphasizing his belief that the sun has a vendetta against him as the moment of the murder looms. Finally, it was the “cymbals of sunlight crashing on [his] forehead” that drove Meursault past the edge. These numerous examples of the sun’s treachery are clear evidence of its immoral role in the murder.
Throughout the chapter, Meursault’s displays of discomfort with the sun’s influence are in abundance, and his reaction towards it gives away the sun’s cruel intentions. Surprisingly however, his initial responses are mild. Indeed, the sun at first makes “[Meursault] doze off.” While, at this point, there is little to no indication of violence, this mellow effect serves to convey that the sun has unwavering control of Meursault’s emotions. It is with this power that the sun later compels him to kill. The true of intent of the sun is soon to follow. Walking along the beach, Meursault “tightens [his] jaw” and “grits [his] teach” on numerous occasions, suggesting that the sun’s hegemony has turned from one of serenity to one of stress and tension.
Meursault’s actions on the beach that day were amplified by the sun’s intensity. While the foundation of his emotions was there to begin with, the sun only served to magnify them and transform suppressed desire into action. It unlocked the restlessness that Meursault, who only concerns himself with matters of the physical world, was harboring and compels him to act on impulse. The sun can therefore be described as an instigator and catalyst of Meursault’s initially uneasy disposition into violent action.