Meursault in The Stranger seems to spend a lot of time describing the temperature, and especially the heat. There are numerous cases where he mentions the sun and the heat:

It occurred to me that all I had 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. I took a few steps toward the spring. The Arab didn't move. Besides, he was still pretty far away. Maybe it was the shadows on his face, but it looked like he was laughing. I waited. The sun was starting to burn my cheeks, and I could feel drops of sweat gathering in my eyebrows. 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. I knew that it was stupid, that I wouldn't get the sun off me by stepping forward.


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 squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave; I felt the smooth underside of the butt; and there, in that noise, sharp and deafening at the same time, is where it all started. I shook off the sweat and sun.
The Stranger, part 1: chapter 6

Again without any apparent logic, the magistrate then asked if I had fired all five shots at once. I thought for a minute and explained that at first I had fired a single shot and then, a few seconds later, the other four. 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.
The Stranger, part 2: chapter 1

But I can honestly say that the time from summer to summer went very quickly. And I knew as soon as the weather turned hot that something new was in store for me. My case was set down for the last session of the Court of Assizes, and that session was due to end some time in June. The trial opened with the sun glaring outside.


A short time later a small bell rang in the room. Then they took my handcuffs off. They opened the door and led me into the dock. The room was packed. Despite the blinds, the sun filtered through in places and the air was already stifling.
The Stranger, part 2: chapter 3

What is Meursault's obsessions with the heat all about? Why is it so consistently mentioned and brought up?

2 Answers 2


The three parts of the book where the heat is most oppressive are all connected with death. These are

  1. the last few pages of the first chapter, which describe the funeral procession for Meursault's mother,
  2. the last few pages of Part One, Chapter VI, which describe the events at the beach leading up to the killing of the Arab, and
  3. the description of the trial, especially Part Two, Chapter III, which leads to Meursault's death sentence.

In a discussion of what Algeria meant for Camus, Bernard Pingaud (L'Étranger d'Albert Camus. Gallimard, 1992, pages 29-31) points out that the sea and the sun had a special meaning to the author. The sea as a symbol is always positive and represent the "domain of acquiescence" ("domaine de l'acquiescement"). Swimming means getting as close as possible to the "world". How much Camus liked swimming is well known to biographers. Camus even wrote in his notebooks, "I need to write just like I need to swim; my body demands it."

The sun, however, is ambiguous. When associated with the sea, it can show its welcoming side. In The Stranger, this can be seen in the two passages in which he goes swimming with Marie, i.e. in Part One, Chapter II (the day after the funeral) and Part One, Chapter VI (the chapter that ends with the killing). Meursault seems happy during this moments. (I write "seems" because he does not describe his feelings or emotions.)

But most of the times, the sun represent an ordeal because its heat dries out and burns and can thereby cause death. Pingaud mentions other early works by Camus—L'Été à Alger (Summer in Algeria) and Le Désert (The Desert)—that also reflect the sun's ambiguous meaning: the sun existed before us, will continue to exist when we are gone and shines on a world that does not need us.

The world's indifference towards us is an important premise of The Myth of Sisyphus, which Camus wrote around the same time as The Stranger. (Camus sometimes referred to the essay The Myth of Sisyphus, the novel The Stranger and the play Caligula as his "three absurds".) Combining this with the prominent descriptions of heat in the passages listed above, one might say that Meursault (symbolically) feels the world's indifference most strongly during those moments that are most strongly associated with death.

However, it is also possible to come up with a more psychological explanation. As I wrote in my answer to the question Is Meursault bothered that he doesn't know what day Maman died?, a psychoanalytical interpretation of the novel would explain Meursault's insensitivity as a symptom of repression. Similarly, one may read Meursault's focus on the heat as a symptom of emotional stress that he does not fully understand and that he does not want to acknowledge or look into. (Descriptions of sensory impressions pervade the entire novel, whereas descriptions of the narrator's feelings are absent.)


Novelists, unlike dramatists, actually describe place to the extent that some critics have said place is an additional character in a novel, but I don't think that this is the case here.

Merseault does not seem to take much of an interesting in life, or in living. To me, the novel is a study in anomie rather than absurdity. And a stifling, suffocating heat must only be a way of how Camus is indicating Merseault finds or thinks of life. That is suffocating, stifling and intolerable.

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