The Stranger

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Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle) Symbol Analysis

Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle) Symbol Icon
Glare (along with its synonyms) symbolizes the importance of physical experience over mental analysis. Literally caused by light bouncing off a surface, glare represents a way of experiencing the world that doesn't seek to probe beneath the surface of things. Instead of analyzing or interpreting, this way of looking at the world takes physical experience as it comes and makes decisions based on sensory impressions. The most crucial instance of glare in The Stranger can be found reflecting off the Arab's knife on the beach, moments before Meursault shoots him. Indeed, to Meursault's mind, this bright glare (rather than any deeper, personal motive) was the reason he killed the Arab. Glares, shimmers, glistens, and dazzles are plentiful throughout the rest of the novel as well, and shine off the landscape the day of Madame Meursault's funeral, off of the pavement and bodies of strangers walking below Meursault's apartment as he people-watches, and off the beach beside Masson's.

Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle) Quotes in The Stranger

The The Stranger quotes below all refer to the symbol of Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Stranger published in 1989.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

That's when Maman's friends came in. There were about ten in all, and they floated into the blinding light without a sound. They sat down without a single chair creaking. I saw them more clearly than I had ever seen anyone, and not one detail of their faces or their clothes escaped me. But I couldn't hear them, and it was hard for me to believe they really existed.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Meursault's emotional distance from his mother does not mean that he feels somehow absent from the scene of her funeral itself. Instead, he is aware of each precise moment, paying close attention to all the actors in the scene and each detail on their faces. However, the way Meursault describes the attendees to his mother's funeral is, indeed, reminiscent of the way someone might describe the way a movie or play unfolds. His relationship to them is detached – he does not feel at all emotionally invested in the scene, for instance.

One could probably, then, call Meursault's attitude a more aesthetic one, in that he considers events to take place in terms of the interest they hold for him, in terms of how they make him feel on a plane entirely separate from his emotional investment in other people. Meursault's inability to really believe in the full humanity of others will also help to explain his actions on the beach: in each case, he fails to see how other people really exist.

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Seeing the rows of cypress trees leading up to the hills next to the sky, and the houses standing out here and there against that red and green earth, I was able to understand Maman better. Evenings in that part of the country must have been a kind of sad relief. But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Heat, Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

On the one hand, this passage seems to suggest that by attending Maman's funeral, Meursault will be able to better understand her, drawing closer to her even after her death. It does seem that returning to "that part of the country" helps to flesh out Maman's past for her son. Nevertheless, this insight only further underlines just how little attention Meursault paid to his mother during her life, such that her past is still a mystery to him, one that he doesn't seem very interested at all in resolving.

Instead, the scene turns back towards Meursault's own sensory impressions. His casual thought about his mother's past is quickly conquered by the "oppressive," all-powering heat of the sun, which reminds him and us that the natural world cares little for our comfort and well-being – nor does it care to pay respect on the occasion of a human tragedy like death.

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

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. But I took a step, one step, forward.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker), Madame Meursault
Related Symbols: Heat, Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 58-59
Explanation and Analysis:

Usually, Meursault moves through life passively, as if taking step after step without his own volition, driven by nothing other than the vicissitudes of existence. Here, at least, there is one major source of his actions: the physically excruciating experience of heat and glare – the "burning" that propels him forwards, even though he knows it won't do anything. Meursault explicitly links this feeling of overwhelming heat to the day of Maman's funeral. In both cases, a scene that one could consider as important because of other people, because of interpersonal relationships, instead becomes a reminder of the overwhelming power of physical reality to bend humans to its will. 

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 the sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I'd been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.

Related Characters: Meursault (speaker)
Related Symbols: Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Even after reading this passage again and again, the reader may not have any better sense of why exactly Meursault kills the "Arab" on the beach. He doesn't feel threatened, nor does he seem to want to defend Raymond or the other women. Meursault's reasoning once again takes place outside the societal standards and norms by which we seek to understand and to judge human activity. All the more striking, then, that what we do have is a huge amount of concrete details and sensory description. Meursault is tense, sweaty, and hot, a feeling that he violently shakes off with the noise of the revolver's shot. 

Although we have no sense of why Meursault shoots, at least according to our own expectations of why people kill, Meursault does not at all claim that he was outside himself, unaware of what he was doing – indeed, it is precisely the opposite. He knows not only that he is committing murder, but also that he is shattering an idyllic moment – a change that he experiences, indeed, as a physical "knock." This tense, climactic moment seems to contradict Meursault's feeling that all life choices are indifferent and interchangeable, even if the man he shoots is indeed, in his eyes, random and interchangeable. Or else, perhaps, this is the extreme but logical conclusion of considering absolutely everything, even life and death, as ultimately interchangeable.

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Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle) Symbol Timeline in The Stranger

The timeline below shows where the symbol Glare (shimmer, glisten, dazzle) appears in The Stranger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...their black formal clothes. Pérez cannot keep up. Meursault's head pounds. Heat makes the landscape "shimmer." (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 2
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...couples on dates. The street lamps go on, dimming the stars and making "the pavement glisten." Hair, mouths, and jewelry glisten too. (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...Meursault, Raymond, and Masson take a walk on the beach. In the midday heat, "the glare on the water was unbearable." Meursault reflects, "I wasn't thinking about anything, because I was... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...hoping to see the spring again and rest in its shade. "There was the same dazzling red glare" on the beach and each flash of the sun's reflection is described as... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...about it." To Meursault's eyes in the blazing sun, the Arab "was just a form shimmering…in the fiery air." Meursault notes the light is the same as it had been on... (full context)
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
The Arab man draws his knife and the sun reflects off it in a "dazzling spear…[that] stabbed at my stinging eyes." Reeling in the heat, Meursault "squeezed" the revolver and... (full context)