The first part of The Stranger by Albert Camus moved really slowly, it seemed to have no plot direction. This was very deceiving. It wasn’t until you finished the last page that you realize a lot is going on throughout the story that you didn’t see. I really appreciated how Camus used the sun and heat to demonstrate the narrator’s emotional processing of his mother’s death. It is described as a ever-present, oppressive force at different phases of the novel. Particularly interesting is how the narrator becomes tired, often falling asleep or wishing to be in his bed when he is in the heat for an extended period of time. I understood this detail to represent how exhausting processing trauma or loss can be. While Mersault is describing his mundane life, small details are revealed that clue the reader into to his spiraling mental state. But the most obvious is his growing dislike for the “heat”. At the climax of part one, the heat, or the narrator’s unfinished feelings towards his mother’s death (whether guilt, grief, anger I can’t tell yet), become “unbearable”. “The 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 skin. It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward” (pg. 59). This abnormal reaction is not simply talking about temperature or physical discomfort. His trauma hangs so heavily over him that his veins throb and his skin burns. I think that Mersault manifests these discomforts in the form of an uncomfortable Algerian sun, so he doesn’t confront them. This explains his homicidal actions in the paragraphs following this passage. Because he is only processing his emotions through the oppressive heat, he believes an escape from the sun will result in an escape from emotions. He sees the shade and water spray of the rocks as an escape, even if a brief one. But the man is lying there and preventing his escape. A desperate Mersault, already losing touch, loses control in this portion and in the “heat” of the moment he kills what he perceives as something of a threat.
2 thoughts on “Heat of the Moment”
I totally agree with your evaluation of the sun and how it connects to Meurseut’s trama regarding his mother. I thought of this same connection during class today. I feel like since he is so emotionally reserved, he processes his feelings in other ways. I think the sun relates his violence to the anger/sadness/other emotions he felt when his mother died but was never able to express. The sun and other weather elements almost represent how he is on the inside when he seems seemingly fine on the outside.
I agree, but I think it had to do more with his emotions than with the heat. The heat made Meursault think less clearly, but his suppressed emotions about Maman’s death pushed him over the edge. He needed to take control of something, and killing the man was something he could do that was truly his own decision.