Study Guide

The Stranger Man and the Natural World

By Albert Camus

Man and the Natural World

Part 1, Chapter 1

She said, "If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church." She was right. There was no way out. (1.1.27)

The nurse speaks of both the weather and human condition. The sun’s heat is inescapable, just as death is inescapable. There was no way out except through acceptance. It's pretty interesting that Meursault isn't the only one to tie important human responses to the weather.

[…] the witness of the room seemed even brighter than before. There wasn’t a shadow anywhere in front of me, and every object, every angle and curve stood out so sharply it made my eyes hurt. (1.1.15)

Brightness seems to have a negative effect on Meursault’s mood. At times, brightness even means pain to Meursault.

It was pleasant; the coffee had warmed me up, and the smell of flowers on the night air was coming through the open door. I think I dozed off for a while. (1.1.14)

Meursault, in his passivity, allows the weather and surroundings to dictate his actions.

All around me there was still the same glowing countryside flooded with sunlight. The glare from the sky was unbearable. At one point, we went over a section of the road that had just been repaved. The tar had burst open in the sun. […] I felt a little lost between the blue and white of the sky and the monotony of the colors around me – the sticky black of the tar, the dull black of all the clothes, and the shiny black of the hearse. All of it – the sun, the smell of leather and horse dung from the hearse, the smell of varnish and incense, and my fatigue after a night without sleep – was making it hard for me to see or think straight. […] I could feel the blood pounding in my temples. (1.1.26)

Meursault claims that the weather clouds his senses and his judgment. Major foreshadowing.

The sky was already filled with light. The sun was beginning to bear down on the earth and it was getting hotter by the minute. I don’t know why we waited so long before getting under way. I was hot in my dark clothes […] it was inhuman and oppressive. (1.1.24)

Meursault has little tolerance for summer heat—it instantly dampens his mood.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Then the street lamps came on all of a sudden and made the first stars appearing in the night sky grow dim. I felt my eyes getting tired. (1.2.11)

Let’s get this straight: the hot sun makes Meursault tired; the night sky makes Meursault tired; the flowers make Meursault tired… does this guy do anything but sleep?

Soon after that, the sky grew dark and I thought we were in for a summer storm. Gradually, though, it cleared up again. But the passing clouds had left a hint of rain hanging over the street, which made it look darker. I sat there for a long time and watched the sky. (1.2.8-10)

[…]

The sky changed again. Above the rooftops the sky had taken on a reddish glow, and with evening coming on the streets came to life.

Meursault spends a relaxed but pensive afternoon watching the street scene from his upstairs apartment. The changes in the sky mirror his changing moods.

I had the whole sky in my eyes and it was blue and gold. On the back of my neck I could feel Marie’s heart beating softly. We lay on the float for a long time, half asleep. When the sun got too hot, she dove off and I followed. I caught up with her, put my arm around her waist, and we swam together. She laughed the whole time. (1.2.2)

Compare this scene on the beach, in the sun, to the scene with the Arab that we see later. Why is it that the sun makes Meursault happy here, and later has such a drastically different effect? Could it be that his whole weather-defense is bunk?

Part 1, Chapter 3

The sky was green; I felt good. (1.3.3)

We’re looking for a color motif here… earlier the sky was blue and gold, and now it’s green. Go "hmm" on that one for a while.

Part 1, Chapter 4

The four o’clock sun wasn’t too hot, but the water was warm, with slow, gently lapping waves. Marie taught me a game. (1.4.1)

Warmth—not heat—puts Meursault in a happy mood. We’re trying to establish some sort of system here, but it could be that the associations are devoid of logic and reasoning—much like an absurdist world. Ooooh.

I’d left my window open, and the summer night air flowing over our brown bodies felt good. (1.4.2)

For Meursault, happiness is the result of physical pleasures. Simple as that.

Part 1, Chapter 6

[…] a blending halo of light and sea spray. I was thinking of the cool spring behind the rock. I wanted to hear the murmur of its water again, to escape the sun and the strain […] and to find shade and rest again at last. (1.6.21)

Nature’s conditions are so brutal that the only thing on Meursault’s mind is escape and peace.

The sun was starting to burn my cheeks, and I could feel drops of sweat gathering in my eyebrows. That sun was the same as it had been the day I’d buried Maman, and like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all the veins in it throbbing under the sun. It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward. I knew that it was stupid, that I wouldn’t get the sun off me by stepping forward. (1.6.24)

Meursault notes that the sun is similar to the sun on the day he buried Maman—we wonder if his repressed anger/sadness/emotion in general from her death has anything to do with his sudden lashing out here.

But most of the time, he was just a form shimmering before my eyes in the fiery air. The sound of the waves was even lazier, more drawn out than at noon. It was the same sun, the same light still shining on the same sand as before. It occurred to me that all I hate to do was turn around and that would be the end of it. But the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back. (1.6.23-24)

Camus’s descriptions of the sun-drenched conditions complement Meursault’s confused thoughts as we build toward the climax.

The sun glinted off Raymond’s gun as he handed it to me. (1.6.18)

Here we directly see the sun and the gun associated with each other. Meursault will later blame both of these items for the Arab’s death.

Once out in the street, because I was so tired and also because we hadn’t opened the blinds, the day, already bright with sun, hit me like a slap in the face. (1.6.2)

This looks a lot like the scene where the sun "cuts" Meursault’s eyes (just before he kills the Arab).

The sun was shining almost directly overhead onto the sand, and the glare on the water was unbearable. […] It was hard to breathe in the rocky heat rising from the ground. (1.6.11)

The heat makes Meursault angry. Like really angry.

[…] my head ringing from the sun […] the heat was so intense that it was just as bad standing still in the blinding stream falling from the sky. To stay or to go, it amounted to the same thing. A minute later I turned back toward the beach and started walking. There was the same dazzling red glare. The sea gasped for air with each shallow, stifled little wave that broke on the sand. I was walking slowly toward the rocks and I could feel my forehead swelling under the sun. All that heat was pressing down on me and making it hard for me to go on. And every time I felt a blast of its hot breath strike my face, I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists in my trouser pockets, and strained every nerve in order to overcome the sun and the thick drunkenness it was spilling over me. With every blade of light that flashed off the sand, from a bleached shell or a piece of broken glass, my jaws tightened. (1.6.19-20)

The description of the heat accompanies Meursault’s rising annoyance perfectly, foreshadows the impending conflict perfectly, and illustrates properly just how absurd and irrational his forthcoming actions will be.

[…] the Arab drew his knife and held it up to me in the sun. The light shot off the steel and it was like a long flashing blade cutting at my forehead. At the same instant the sweat in my eyebrows dripped down over my eyelids all at once and covered them with a warm, thick film. My eyes were blinded behind the curtain of tears and salt. All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, indistinctly, 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. That’s when everything began to reel. The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeeze my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave. (1.6.24)

Meursault’s description of the sky splitting open to "rain down fire" is oddly religious. Could it be that he feels he ought to be punished (for not grieving his mother’s death), and that this self-destruction is why he pulls the trigger?

We walked on the beach for a long time. By now the sun was overpowering. It shattered into little pieces on the sand and water. (1.6.16)

Look at Camus’s word choice—verbs like "shatter" set our emotions on edge for the coming scene.

Part 2, Chapter 1

To tell the truth, I had found it very hard to follow his reasoning, first because I was hot and there were big flies in his office that kept landing on my face […]. (2.1.10)

Meursault loses concentration and other cognitive abilities once the weather gets hot. We feel you, Meursault. Sort of.

Then he said, "Why did you pause between the first and second shot?" Once again I could see the red sand and feel the burning of the sun on my forehead. (2.1.9)

This is yet another instance of Meursault’s belief that his actions are dictated by his physical surroundings.

I explained to him, however, that my nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings. (2.1.4)

That’s about as explicit as it gets. You can apply this line to all of Meursault’s words and actions in The Stranger.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon, and this time his office was filled with sunlight barely softened by a flimsy curtain. It was very hot. (2.1.7)

By this point, we know that hot weather is never a good sign for Meursault. Tension is built in this scene simply because of our previous associations between the sun and Meursault’s mood.

Part 2, Chapter 3

Despite the blinds, the sun filtered through in places and the air was already stifling. They hadn’t opened the windows. (2.3.3)

Even more comments regarding the hot sun and the stifling air, and yes, even more foreshadowing of impending doom.

The trial opened with the sun glaring outside. (2.3.1)

That the sun is "glaring outside" does not bode well for Meursault’s trial. This foreshadows some form of agitation on his part, or possibly his getting sentenced to the guillotine. Take your pick.

Part 2, Chapter 4

Meanwhile, the sun was getting low outside and it wasn’t as hot anymore. From what street noises I could hear, I sensed the sweetness of evening coming on. There we all were, waiting. And what we were all waiting for really concerned only me. (2.4.9)

As we approach the denouement and falling action, the sun gets lower in the sky. Nifty!

Fumbling a little with my words and realizing how ridiculous I sounded, I blurted out that it was because of the sun. People laughed. My lawyer threw up his hands […]. (2.4.6)

Think about Meursault’s defense ("the sun made me do it!") in the context of the last chapter of the novel, when he concludes that he feels a kinship with the earth, that the world is in fact his brother.