The novel The Stranger begins when Meursault receives a telegram from the home saying “Your mother has passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy” (Camus, 4). His reaction to his mother’s death demonstrates how emotionally detached he is. “Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday” (Camus, 4). The following day Meursault attends his mother’s funeral, strangely Meursault does not express any kind of emotions towards his mother’s death and refuses to see his mother when asked to open her coffin, almost as if he did not care. He believed that death was bound to happen to everyone, therefore he did not find it necessary to get upset about it. While he and his mother lived together he revealed that “Mother was always watching me, but we hardly ever talked” (Camus, 5). “This image of a silent scrutinizing mother hints at the frustration Meursault may have experienced in childhood” (Makari, 3). During the vigil, Meursault lights up a cigarette and drinks a coffee, which is seen as a sign of disrespect.
The following weeks he continues his life as if nothing ever happened, creating new friendships and relationships. Marie becomes his girlfriend and he befriends a pimp named Raymond, and together they go on a beach vacation. Which results in Meursault experiencing a life changing Incident. Meursault and his friends confront two Arabs, which results in Meursault shooting and killing one. He goes on trial and gets sentenced to death in prison. At the end of the novel, Meursault finds himself “experiencing the greatest freedom, clarity and passion of his life” (Hallie, 28). In the book The Stranger, Albert Camus illustrates that individuals define their own meaning of life, human existence, and the notion that there is no purpose of existence. Camus uses different literary elements such as symbolism and tone to illustrate indifference, absurdity of life and unmeaning of life.
After returning from his mother’s funeral Meursault begins to look back at the time he lived with his mother. “It suited us well enough when mother was with me, but now that I was by myself it was too large and I’d moved the dining table into my bedroom” (Camus ,15). Makari states that Meursault’s reflection “symbolically reveals his sense of loss and his emotional engagement with his mother” (Makari,4). In addition, Camus frequently uses symbolism throughout the novel. Meursault used the heat and sun to justify his actions and the murder he committed. The first time Meursault appears to be uncomfortable by the sun’s heat is during his mother’s funeral where he explains. “soon I lost interest in his movements; my temples were throbbing, and I could hardly drag myself along” (Camus,12). The sun’s heat seems to play a big role in this novel. Meursault tells the judge that he had no intentions of killing the Arab but tries to “I tried to explain that it was because of the sun” (Camus, 64). In other words, the sun represents society subjugating Meursault.
Another symbol Albert Camus uses in The Stranger is the courtroom. The courtroom represents society and its traditional views of life. From the very beginning of the hearing the courtroom views Meursault as hostile and a monster simply because of his actions in his mother’s funeral, and they seem to misunderstand Meursault. The prosecutor explains that Meursault was a “menace to society” by stating, “I had no soul, there was nothing human about me, not one of those moral qualities which normal men possess had any place in my mentality” (Camus, 63). The jury represents society ready to cast judgements. “These people were staring hard at me, and I guessed they were the jury. But somehow I didn’t see them as individuals.” (Camus, 52). The trial symbolizes society’s attempts to try and understand the unreasonableness of life.
The crucifix represents the Christian belief, which Meursault opposes since he does not believe in God. During the examination of the magistrate after Meursault’s arrest he says that “He was leaning right across the table, brandishing his crucifix before my eyes.” (Camus, 43). Throughout the novel Meursault makes it clear that he is an atheist, but he has a change of heart towards Christianity. “I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe” (Camus, 76).
Albert Camus uses repetition, diction, and metaphors to establish tone. Throughout the novel Camus frequently mentions the sun and heat. The first time Meursault complains about the heat is at his mother’s funeral “I felt the first waves of heat lapping my back, and my dark suit made things worse. I couldn’t imagine why we waited so long for getting under way.” (Camus, 11). Camus even uses it during the incident at the beach that motivates Meursault to commit a horrific crime. Secondly, Camus uses diction to emphasize existentialism, “Beneath a veil of brine and tears my eyes were blinded; the keen blade of light flashing up from the knife, scarring my eyelashes, and gouging into my eyeballs.” (Camus, 38). The Arab’s murder is an example of existentialism because Meursault did not find it necessary to get a lawyer after being arrested. Furthermore, Camus used metaphors to describe how uncomfortable Meursault is under the heat of the sun. “But the whole beach, pulsing with heat, was pressing on my back” (Camus, 38). Camus uses examples like this to express how uncomfortable Meursault feels in society.
In conclusion, Albert Camus utilizes tone and symbolism to Illustrate existentialism, and how people determine their own existence to find their own meaning of life. Camus is “among the greatest explorers of what it means to live without religion” (Aronson, 2). “Camus’ work provides frameworks, insights, challenges, and encouragement” (Aronson, 2) to those who decide to find their own meaning of life, rather than letting society do it.