Color and weather as elements used to explore thought and emotion in Albert Camus’ The Stranger
Literary techniques have long been an effective tool that authors use in order to convey deeper meaning within their text, particularly for novels that have a seemingly simple purpose. The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward is a perfect example of this, on the surface it is about a murder committed by a heartless man, beneath it traces the development of this man, his thoughts, his principles and finally the acceptance of his fate. Color and weather are two elements that Camus uses in order to develop this deeper meaning, and to explore his protagonist’s thoughts and emotions. This technique explores the wider concept of existentialism as well, essentially classifying The Stranger as an existentialist novel. Color and weather are used in conjunction at times, but when employed separately; their influence materializes in different ways within the novel.
Weather as used by Camus directly influences the actions of his protagonist Meursault. The most prominent instance would be when he commits the murder of the Arab, because of the intense heat. This is evident in the line “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 squeezed my hand around the revolver.”1 Here, the sun and the heat are used to create vivid imagery that characterizes the weather as a force by itself, an irrefutable force that has control over Meursault, something that dictates his physical actions at times. Meursault feels the physical attributes of the world around him in a much greater capacity than others, which is an indication of his existentialist nature. The physical world is all that matters to him, nothing beyond it.
The sun is used as a recurring symbol to trace the progression of Meursault’s character through the novel. His attitude towards it, they way he views the effect of the sun on himself is an indicator of his transgression as he is convicted and then as he develops his realization of the world, and accepts his fate. In the first part of the novel, the sun seems to cause him solely discomfort, he feels suffocated and weary under the constant battering of its repressive force. This is indicated when Meursault says, on the day of his mothers funeral “But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive.”2 The death of his mother did not cause him grief, but the force of the sun did.
Here, he is entirely focused on the physical aspects of his being; he does not function on a level deeper than that. However, this is contrasted to his view towards the end of the novel, when he says “….all night long, waited patiently for the first light to show on the pane of sky.”3 He values the earth and what it has to give, in the view of his approaching death he looks to the sun as a symbol of hope. Thus what the sun represents to Meursault has changed, once it symbolized aggression and violence, now it indicates hope, and acceptance in his life.
While weather was used to influence Meursault’s actions, color is employed by Camus to reflect Meursault’s thought process and his emotions. Meursault observes color intently as he is completely immersed in the physical world in the first part of the novel. Red features prominently as an indicator of violence, death and aggression. At his mother’s funeral, Meursault describes his mother’s burial as “… the blood – red earth spilling over Maman’s casket, the white flesh of the roots mixed with it…”4 The red earth reflects the death of his mother, the white represents the empty feeling he associates with it. The line could be seen as an allusion to his ambivalent feelings towards his mother’s death, guilt at not being able to conform to society’s expectations, represented by red, and awareness that his mother’s death has not caused him to feel anything; therefore he is empty, represented by white.
Yellow and green appear occasionally in the course of the novel as well, to reflect certain aspects of Meursault’s thinking, and emotions. After an enjoyable dinner at Celeste’s, Meursault says “The sky was green; I felt good.”5 Green here represents contentment, and a certain tranquil calm that enables him to live in the moment, with his simple concerns and thoughts. Yellow is used when he describes his dead mother and the mirror on his wall. Thus, it represents dilapidation and aging, something that does not appeal to Meursault.
Blue and black are significant colours as when they are contrasted with each other, they represent Meursault’s struggle between an obligation to conform to society, and a desire to be freed from all responsibility. It can be inferred from the line “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”6 that his ambivalence troubles him. Black as a symbol of mourning represents what Meursault should be feeling, despair and loneliness, while blue and white represent his desire to be liberated, to live in the world without having to feel guilty for his lack of feeling at his mother’s death.
Meursault’s keen observation of color and the fact that the weather affects him in profound ways all allude to something deeper. There is a perceptible change in Camus’ writing style when he describes nature, and when he describes emotion or a social situation. The sentences flow freely when he writes of nature, describing the sun or the weather or the lap of water against his skin. This is starkly different from the language used to depict social situations, or emotion. The sentences are short and clipped, suggesting Meursault’s unease with conforming to society and its regulations. His connection with nature hints at his existentialist tendencies revealed later on in the novel, as he finds pleasure in the physical world; instances such as good weather please him.
The usage of these elements as literary techniques in the novel contributes to a deeper understanding of the nature of existentialism itself. Existentialism is a predominant theme in The Stranger, one that Camus has chosen to explore in a compelling way. His focus on the physical, weather and color are both aspects of the world that are visible on the surface. They symbolize the very essence of existentialism, a focus on the absolute, what is tangible and present rather than something unidentifiable and abstract.
Existentialists focus on concrete human existence, Camus has alluded to this by employing weather and color as techniques in the novel to illustrate his protagonist’s thoughts. The development of these symbols, the Sun in particular and what it means to Meursault is indicative of Camus’ own thoughts towards existentialism. His character Meursault is resolved of his struggle in the end; he reaches a stage where he accepts his impending death. By doing this, Camus encourages the reader to persevere in spite of absurdity. He cites it as an obstacle to overcome rather than a reason for ending ones life, which is the common outcome of an existentialist’s thinking.
Thus, Albert Camus makes use of color and weather to convey certain deeper connotations of the novel, as well as to indicate his protagonist’s existentialist tendencies, and his own thoughts on this philosophy. He uses symbols, vivid imagery and contrast to highlight the conflict within Meursault, which is an important facet of the novel. His symbolic presentation of the sun traces Meursault’s character development, from a man removed from most of the world, to a man who accepts his fate and truly appreciates the world around him. These are the elements that contribute to the depth of a novel, give it many layers that provoke thought within the reader.
Camus, Albert (1942) The Stranger, Alfred. A. Knopf, Inc (1998)
1 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page 59
2 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page 15
3 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page 113
4 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page 18
5 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page26
6 The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, page 17