The Motif of Light

5 May

Camus’s novel, The Outsider, presents us with a very peculiar protagonist; one who is very introspective and aware of his physical surroundings. Throughout the novel, Meursault is the epitome of pathetic fallacy. He always describes how he is feeling as a result of nature, whether it is the temperature or amount of light present. Light especially is a motif, and appears to affect Meursault’s vision in various instances. This is first introduced when Meursault is attending his Mother’s funeral, initially at the vigil. After describing, “The caretaker turned the light-switch and I was blinded by the sudden blaze of light”(14), Meursault refers a few more times to the glare from the white walls and how it bothers him, especially his eyes. Following along, when carrying his mother’s hearse along the countryside, it happens to be a very hot day, and this gets to Meursault: “All around me there was still the same luminous, sun-drenched countryside. The glare form the sky was unbearable…I was so tired that I could hardly see or think straight anymore” (21). So it can be seen that sunlight, or natural conditions in generally, directly affects his mood. He also claims that the presence of the sunlight is “inhospitable and depressing”(20), which is ironic, because sunlight usually has positive connotations or symbols.

Light also seems to interfere with another significant occurrence further in the novel. This is demonstrated by his unjust shooting of the Arab man at the end of Part I, where he vividly describes the sunlight and its penetrating effects on himself: “The light leapt up off the steel and it was like a long, flashing sword lunging at my forehead…My eyes were blinded by this veil of salty tears. All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead(60). Thus, the sun ultimately blinds his vision here, causing his senses to be overwhelmed, followed by an impulsive reaction. Meursault himself claims that his actions are dominated by his feelings, which are influenced by his physical needs: “But I explained to him that by nature my physical needs often distorted my feelings”(65).

Later in the novel, the instances mentioned above are used against him. When asked earlier to explain his indifferent attitude at his mother’s funeral, he simply claims that he was tired that day and had not completely grasped all that was happening. We know that the sunlight is part of what influenced this behavior and that his feelings succumb to physical conditions. On trial, he is asked of his motives for shooting the Arab man, to which he responds, “…it was because of the sun.”(99) So it appears that light acted as a disturbance at pretty significant events, which ultimately cost him his life and reinforce the absurdity of his death sentence.

On a final note, Meursault seems to regard sunlight as more of an irritation in Part I, but in Part II, it carries a more positive connotation. A few times, he associates sunlight with Marie: “One day when I was clinging to the bars, with my face straining towards the light, a warder came in and told me that I had a visitor. I thought it must be Marie. It was”(72) and “But the face was the color of the sun and burning with desire: it was Marie’s face.”(101) Knowing how Meursault feels about Marie, it can be assumed that he views it in a more optimistic light (no pun intended). He also uses light to judge the passing of his days in prison; a form of killing time. Perhaps light is another element that supports Meursault’s transformation in the novel, in terms of his attitude towards it.

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