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The Stranger | Symbols


The symbols in The Stranger represent conflicts for Meursault between social convention and engagement in the experiences of life.


The courtroom represents society and its traditional view that law and other means of maintaining order provide meaning in life. The novel shows how this traditional view can be oppressive and even fatal. Most of the participants in the courtroom view Meursault with hostility or misunderstanding. Meursault in turn finds the courtroom, including the jury, legal authorities, and spectators, absurd.


The crucifix represents traditional Christian beliefs about the meaning of life. The examining magistrate holds a crucifix as he interrogates Meursault. This conversation pits the Christian views of the examining magistrate against the nihilistic views of Meursault. During this verbal battle, the examining magistrate uses the crucifix almost as a weapon. At one point, the magistrate thrusts the crucifix in Meursault's face and screams, in Part 2, Chapter 1, "I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive you your sins."

Sun and Sea

The sun represents, for Meursault, hostile forces in nature or the universe. On the beach as Meursault stares at the Arab, in Part 1, Chapter 6, the sun oppresses Meursault: "the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire." When the Arab draws his knife, the light reflects off the steel "like a long flashing blade cutting at [his] forehead," propelling Meursault toward murdering the man. Throughout the novel, the sun and the heat it creates make Meursault uncomfortable, including during the funeral procession and in the courtroom. Even when Meursault goes outside in the morning, in Part 1, Chapter 6, the sun hits him "like a slap in the face." His perception of nature as a hostile driving force allows him to refuse to engage in the experiences of life.

As a contrast to oppressive heat and light and as a link to the physical life the protagonist so clearly values, the sea and water offer some relief. In the sea, he first touches Marie; as he waits for his trial, he pictures the freedom of running toward the water.

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