From the first few sentences of Albert Camus’ The Outsider, the protagonist, Meursault, is characterized as an amoral man. He is seemingly indifferent to the death of his own mother, despite the fact that societal principles would suggest he be deeply emotionally affected. His thoughts are instead centered upon the sun, which in return dictates his actions. In the novel, the sun is a representation of the societal weight which urges individuals to conform to norms. The presence of the sun indicates the stages of the development of Meursault’s belief in existentialism. As his understanding of existentialism grows and he realises his independence from society, references to the sun’s harsh effects gradually become absent. Furthermore, the sun is used as a metaphor for death to exhibit the inevitable nature of dying, another fundamental component of existentialism. Through such references to the sun, the novel is able to assist the reader in appreciating existentialism by exhibiting the gradual development of Meursault’s philosophy and by evoking emotions which sensitize the reader to feel the beauty of existentialism.
Within The Outsider, a parallel exists between the sun, which dictates Meursault’s actions, and societal constraints, which dictate mainstream society’s actions. The Arab’s death, caused by the sun’s pressure, is strikingly similar to Meursault’s death, caused by societal pressure which urged the jury to condemn him as a monster. This link is solidified by the diction near the Arab’s death: “But the whole beach was reverberating in the sun and pressing against me from behind.”1 The use of the word “pressing” is reminiscent of situations where one is pressured by society.
The first part of the novel depicts Meursaul...
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Because of its omnipresent and inevitable nature, the sun is cleverly chosen to symbolize societal pressure and to metaphorically represent life. Through the use of this symbolism, the novel leads the reader to understanding and appreciating the implications of existentialism. In the final stage of Meursault’s life, he is content in realising that the universe is irrational, and that it is absurd that humans seek a rational order in life. It is interesting to note the contradicting ideas here. While Meursault realises that the universe is chaotic and irrational, he is content. Though he acknowledges the fact that the universe has no sun and is therefore irrational, he is able to find comfort as he is illuminated by the power of existentialism.
Camus, Albert. The Outsider (J. Laredo, Trans.) Penguin Books Canada Ltd. London, England. 1982
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