Metaphors, Symbolism And Imagery In Depicting The Existentialism In The Novel The Stranger
Before the guided discussion, my interpretation of the literary meaning of the novel was very unclear. I could grasp that the reoccurring symbol of heat had a significant meaning, but I was unable to decipher what the meaning was. Furthermore, I also did not understand the cultural significance of many key elements in the novel, such as the funeral, Salamano’s dog, and the racist beliefs in 1940s Algeria. However, after the guided discussion, I gained clarity on these topics. I was able to understand a little more that the heat was related to death, and how Meursault was involved in that. I do not have complete clarity, but it is significantly more than before the discussion. I also gained clarity of the funeral. After listening to my classmates’ research of the funeral in that area during that time period, I learned about the cultural viewpoints regarding the funeral, as well as care of the elderly. More specifically, I learned that Meursault’s seeming lack of love for his mother carries forward as defying French cultural norms, which contrasts with Salamano’s love for his dog. In Franco-Algerian culture in the 1940s, dogs were not treated as they are today. They were considered to be lowly animals, and the foil that was developed between the characters was revealed to me during the guided discussion. Previously, I thought that the purpose of Salamano’s character was that his relationship with his dog was something that Meursault would learn from while caring for his mother.
I also did not know that part of the culture at the time was to care for the elders in the family, so when I first read the book, I did not know that putting Maman in the home would be seen as so disrespectful in the culture, and in the guided discussion when I learned that it was, I better understood the section of the trial when the prosecutor claimed that Meursault showed no remorse or love for his mother.
In the novel, The Stranger, written by Albert Camus and translated by Matthew Ward, Camus creates metaphor, motif, symbolism and imagery, which represents human behavior regarding death, communication, consciousness, and meaning. The significant metaphors are of Salamano’s dog and Meursault himself representing the inevitability of death, as well as the metaphor of nighttime to foreshadow death. Camus’ primary motif was the depiction of heat as a recurring element whenever there is suffering or the lack of meaning. Camus’ symbol of the Sun is similar to the motif of heat, but creates a more familiar reality to the whole development. Camus’ prime image was the tin plate, which was a reflection of the true Meursault realizing he has no meaning and eventually becoming conscious of death. All of these combine to explain Camus’ beliefs regarding the inevitability of death, the futility of communication, the time of consciousness, and the reality of meaning.
One of Camus’ main points is that people have the freedom to make decisions, but the grand result will always be death. He represents this idea with various characters, the most notable being Salamano’s pet dog. The dog can choose whether to urinate inside or outside, but it always ends up with Salamano becoming impatient and beating the dog. No matter what choice the dog makes, Salamano will still beat him. The beating symbolizes death, and the urination symbolizes all the choices people make throughout their life. This “has been going on for eight years”, and it develops how constant and omnipresent death is, relative to the choices and decisions that can be made in life (Camus 27). Camus also represents this idea during Meursault’s mother’s procession, in which a nurse told Meursault that no matter how fast or slow he goes, he will end up uncomfortable inside the Church because of the heat. “There was no way out” to escape death. Another key element, which is from Meursault’s dilemma, is the heat that caused the suffering in the first place. Therefore, by using the metaphors of Salamano’s dog and Meursault at the procession, Camus reveals how meaningless our choices are because it all leads to death. However, he also depicts that we can give life meaning, just like Meursault did while he was in jail. He “was killing time” to give his life meaning, until he became conscious about his death, which was very soon (Camus 78).
Another significant concept that Camus represents is miscommunication. When Meursault and Raymond are on the beach right before their encounter with the Arabs, Camus represents that incomplete understanding, especially between different cultures, will lead to conflict by utilizing the motif of heat and the symbolism of the sun. When Meursault and Raymond approach the Arabs, they do not speak at all to each other. The Arabs simply ran away, which develops the idea of certainty and mystery. Meursault and Raymond were strangers to Arabs, and the Arabs were strangers to Meursault and Raymond. Because of that, neither group had any certainty about the other group’s intentions. “You could either shoot or not shoot” is what Meursault realizes in that interaction, and it is a method that Camus used to portray that the only thing that anybody can be certain about is death (Camus 56). That is clearly represented here because a gun, which has a direct connotation with death, is what Meursault was sure about because it is parallel to death. Furthermore, Camus portrayal of heat as a motif for suffering and death is extremely prominent when Meursault kills the Arab. Meursault felt as though “the cymbals of sunlight were crashing on [his] forehead” (Camus 59). This use of heat is prevalent whenever Meursault is close to death in some form. He felt it when his mother died, and he also felt it in the courtroom right before his execution, and it represents the suffering that develops when consciousness and having no meaning intertwine. That is because when people become conscious of death, they realize that they have the freedom to do anything they want to do. That makes them afraid because no matter what they do with that freedom, Salamano’s dog and Meursault’s procession prove that it all leads to death. People are afraid of not having any meaning, which is why they resist the freedom and become unconscious.
Camus significantly develops the idea that being unconscious creates an illusion of meaning when Meursault is in jail and tries to do something to “kill time”, or become unconscious (Camus 78). Camus has Meursault simply memorize the details of his jail cell in an effort to create some purpose or meaning, but it does not matter because there is no practical value in doing that. It is simply a waste of time. This leads to Meursault believing that he has a purpose, but he does not. Camus also depicts sleep as a way to pass time, and by doing so he adds another layer to the illusion of meaning by making Meursault even more unconscious. This false meaning eventually leads up to when Meursault realizes how long he had been in jail, and how much closer he was to his death. When Meursault realized the five months he had spent in jail was “the same unending day that was folding in my cell” he became conscious again, and realized how much closer he was to death (Camus 80). He also realized one again that no matter what decisions a person makes, the end result will always be the same. “There was no way out” of dying, and the best that someone can do to give themselves true meaning is to accept it (Camus 81). Camus uses a metaphor for this concept by representing the end of the day as the end of life. Meursault only “heard the sound of his own voice” when the day was coming to a close, and it is a parallel to the concept that people only become conscious about their death once they realize that they are close to it (Camus 81). Therefore, Camus uses the metaphor of Meursault and the night to represent people and death. Camus creates the image of the tin plate as well, as a reflection of Meursault that allowed him to become unconscious. The false meaning had given Meursault a false sense of happiness, but when he tried to smile into the tin plate, “[Meursault’s] reflection seemed to remain serious” (Camus 81). This image clearly represents the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness as giving real and false meaning, and eventually happiness or unhappiness.
A combination of metaphors, motifs, symbolism and imagery vividly portray Camus’ philosophical beliefs. These beliefs are the culmination of each of the main three ideas presented in the novel. Everything leads to the fact that people have no way to determine what their existence entails. All we know is that at one point in the future, death will come, and the significance of our actions becomes nullified. As represented by Salamano’s dog, we have the freedom to do whatever we want. And as represented by Meursault in prison, we can give each action a personal significance. But because of the uncertainty and ambiguity between people, represented by the death of the Arab, there is no way to share the personal significance. This results in the vanishing of meaning, as well as life, when death does its job.
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