Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Symbols and Motifs


='a recurring subject, theme or idea' (www.dictionary.com)


It appears that Meursault is constantly observing what is going on. Observation is a motif because it reflects the absurdity of life- how life is meaningless. Thus, the observation could symbolize that humans are in everlasting search to find purpose. This also displays Camus' absurdist philosophy that highlights the importance of the physical universe that does not have much significance. 

There is a juxtaposition that contrasts two major scenes:Meursault observing from his balcony and people observing Meursault in the courtroom. When Meursault is watching people on the street from his balcony, he is passive as he makes no judgments. On the contrary, the atmosphere in the courtroom is exactly the opposite and people are very judging about Meursault due to the facts that were revealed about him. Therefore observation is a significant motif that portrays that humans in general are in search for purpose. 


A recurrent motif in the novel is death. At the beginning of the novel the reader is presented with the funeral of Meursault’s mother. Meursault is emotionless and what bother him the most are the heat and the sleepiness whilst society believes that he should be in grief. Another example of death is the one of the Arab, which the society believes that he should regret his crime and yet again he only feels “annoyance about it”. Finally the idea of death is shown once again in the final chapter, where the chaplain tries to convince Meursault that there is a God and an afterlife, “In that case, God would help you”,while Meursault believes the complete contrary.  In all the examples where death was present Meursault acts against the way in which society would want him to act. This motif has great significance as it allows the reader to understand what kind of character Meursault is and how he acts against the conventional manner that is imposed by society.


Salamano’s dog:

Salamano’s dog is a prominent symbol which helps convey the society’s perspectives. The dog symbolizes Meursault in the way that they are both unique and are ostracized by the surrounding people. The dog is peculiar to other breeds because it has a skin infection called ‘mange’, which makes all of its hair fall out and forms brown blotches all over the body. Not only is this dog physically different, but also is distinctive because of the poor treatment that is given by Salamano, which causes him to be in constant fear.  Similarly Meursault is deemed different due to the indifference and lack of ambitions. Even at his mother’s funeral he shows neither grief nor affection. Instead, he “wasn’t sleepy, but was tired”, and he was irritated by the silence. Nevertheless, he replies to his boss saying, ”About Sixty,” when he asked of Meursault’s mother’s age which verifies that he does not know much about his own mother and that he is peculiarly different. In addition, the dog could foreshadow Meursault in a sense that they both disappear from the society. The reason why the dog ran away is unspecified, however we do know that no one has seen the dog ever since. Likewise, Meursault vanishes from the society because he receives a death sentence for being responsible of the murder, which erases his presence physically from the eyes of the society.  Perhaps both the dog and Meursault ‘vanished’ from the society because neither of them could adapt in the society. 

The sun & heat:

The sun is a significant symbol in the book as it is referred in the end of part 1, which is the climax of the novel. It is the sun that made Meursault commit the crime: “ All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead” which conveys the intensity of the sunlight. The sun and heat could symbolize the pressure in society since in the beginning of the novel it is the heat that annoys Meursault in the procession of his mother’s funeral rather than the actual fact that he is burying his mother. The sun and heat representing the pressure of society would explain why Meursault is always bothered by it. 

Here Camus is telling the reader how someone who behaves differently from the conventional manner imposed by society will be pressured to change his values and the way he behaves into a more "acceptable" one.

The Chaplain:

The Chaplain signifies Christianity. At the end of the novel the Chaplain offers a chance for salvation "God would help you". The fact that Meursault refuses to do so is viewed as peculiar from the reader. From this the reader can understand that Christianity signifies rational order and something that all society has to follow, and since Meursault refuses to do so he is deemed as irrational and is condemned as an "outsider" to the society. Therefore, Camus conveys a message that anything the society views peculiar is a threat to the society. 

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