Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Courtroom

In the courtroom drama that comprises the second half of The Stranger, the court symbolizes society as a whole. The law functions as the will of the people, and the jury sits in judgment on behalf of the entire community. In The Stranger, Camus strengthens this court-as-society symbolism by having nearly every one of the minor characters from the first half of the novel reappear as a witness in the courtroom. Also, the court’s attempts to construct a logical explanation for Meursault’s crime symbolize humanity’s attempts to find rational explanations for the irrational events of the universe. These attempts, which Camus believed futile, exemplify the absurdity Camus outlined in his philosophy.

The Crucifix

The crucifix that the examining magistrate waves at Meursault symbolizes Christianity, which stands in opposition to Camus’s absurdist world view. Whereas absurdism is based on the idea that human life is irrational and purposeless, Christianity conceives of a rational order for the universe based on God’s creation and direction of the world, and it invests human life with higher metaphysical meaning.

The crucifix also symbolizes rational belief structures in general. The chaplain’s insistence that Meursault turn to God does not necessarily represent a desire that Meursault accept specifically Christian beliefs so much as a desire that he embrace the principle of a meaningful universe in general. When Meursault defies the magistrate by rejecting Christianity, he implicitly rejects all systems that seek to define a rational order within human existence. This defiance causes Meursault to be branded a threat to social order.

Salamano’s Dog

Salamano’s poor, abused dog represents, for Salamano, his own mortality, and serves as a larger symbol of the relationship people have with death. While Salamano has the dog, he treats it terribly but is inconsolable once he loses it. This ostensible hypocrisy is somewhat explained by Salamano’s observation that the real ailment the dog faces is not mange but old age. Salamano is an old man, suffering from the same ailment, which only has one outcome. The dog thus gives Salamano something to project his fears and anger around mortality onto. In grappling with this loss, Salamano expresses concern for the dog’s wellbeing, remembering putting ointment on its sores with fondness.

The disgust Salamano feels for his dog actually mirrors some of the language Meursault uses for the patients at the care home. Just like the dog, their physical signs of aging serve as a reminder of death, and Meursault describes them with a similar mixture of revulsion and pity. Meursault later explicitly connects Salamano’s dog with mortality when he observes that the dog is the same as Salamano’s wife. As unsettling as Meursault’s logic feels, the underlying principle, that both were mortal, is not unsound.