The Stranger

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Heat Symbol Icon
Heat symbolizes the indifference of the universe towards human life. The sun's blazing intensity without regard for bodily comfort or peace of mind stands for the general disregard the natural world has for humanity. Thus, human life is essentially meaningless and no higher or deeper order should be looked for. The most uncomfortably hot moments in the narrative are also the moments at which the meaninglessness of human life is brought into greatest relief. They literally make Meursault dizzy, a dizziness that is both physical and psychological. Meursault encounters dizzying heat on the day of his mother's funeral as well as on the day he shoots the Arab (he himself links these two days by comparing their heat.) Likewise, the heat in the courtroom renders Meursault dizzy during the prosecutor's damning speech in which he creates false meanings for Meursault's actions and claims Meursault is guilty of parricide. Meursault is unable to say anything in response but that the murder was meaningless, without personal motive, a truth the court will not accept.

Heat Quotes in The Stranger

The The Stranger quotes below all refer to the symbol of Heat. 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

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.

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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. 

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Heat Symbol Timeline in The Stranger

The timeline below shows where the symbol Heat appears in The Stranger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Relationships Theme Icon
...that dead bodies must be buried much more quickly than in Paris because of the heat. The caretaker's wife shushes him but Meursault does not understand why, thinking the comment "made... (full context)
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...everyone sweats miserably in their black formal clothes. Pérez cannot keep up. Meursault's head pounds. Heat makes the landscape "shimmer." (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
...wine-heavy lunch, 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... (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
...bungalow. Meursault, though, stands at the base of the steps, head ringing in the intense heat, and feels "unable to face the effort" of climbing up and seeing the women again.... (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
...first walk and thinks, "for two hours the day had stood still." He likens the heat to the heat on the day of his mother's funeral and reflects that "it 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
...reflects off it in a "dazzling spear…[that] stabbed at my stinging eyes." Reeling in the heat, Meursault "squeezed" the revolver and "the trigger gave." He reflects, that that "is where it... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 4
Meaninglessness of Life and the Absurd Theme Icon
Chance and Interchangeability Theme Icon
Indifference and Passivity Theme Icon
Importance of Physical Experience Theme Icon
Given a chance to add onto the prosecutor's speech, Meursault, dizzy in the heat, claims he'd "never intended to kill the Arab," then blunders on, saying he did it... (full context)