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The Sun Motif in The Stranger
Many artists, authors, and composers have put the beauty and warmth of the sun in their work. The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh created landscapes that expressed his joy with bright sunshine. The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem called "The Sun," in which she described the rising and setting of the sun. The Russian composer Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov included a beautiful song, "Hymn to the Sun," in his opera The Golden Cockerel.
Uniquely, Camus' usage of the sun opposes its warmth and beauty in The Stranger. The sun is a symbol for feelings and emotions, which Monsieur Meursault cannot deal with. There is a sun motif present throughout the novel, which perniciously characterizes the usual fondness towards the sun. The sun is a distraction from Meursault's everyday life and he cannot handle it.
The sun first presents a problem to Meursault at his mother's funeral procession. Even before the procession embarks, Meursault remarks of the sun, calling it "inhuman and oppressive." Meursault has shown no emotion towards his mother's death and he directs his bottled-up anxiety at the sun. To Meursault, the sun is an influence on all his senses, as he cannot hear what someone else says to him. He pours with sweat, symbolizing the flow of emotions. Meursault constantly thinks about the sun when one would expect him to be mourning his dead mother. He says, "I could feel the blood pounding in my temples," which is strong imagery.
At the beach with Raymond, the sun provokes Meursault to commit a crime. He says, "(the sun) shattered into little pieces on the sand and water." While going to get a drink of water, the foreign Arab uses a knife to shine the sunlight in Meursault's face. Meursault knew that all he had to do was turn around and walk away. His emotions (again not shown externally and reserved) took over. Camus states, "All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, instinctively, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes." This strong imagery forces Meursault to fire and kill the Arab with a revolver. What makes it worse, he fires four more times to make sure the sun is dissipated for good.
In prison, Meursault changes his views on both the sun, and on his view of life, which are similar.
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Although most creative thinkers have used the sun as a positive being, Camus' existentialist approach sees the sun as a barrier to Meursault's emotions. It is not until Meursault can comprehend this and grasp that there is "gentle indifference to the world," that the sun motif is consummated.