“Il m’a d’abord dit qu’on me di?? peignait comme i?? tant d’un caracti?? re taciturne et renfermi?? et il a voulu savoir ce que j’en pensais. J’ai ri?? pondu:<<C’est que je n’ai jamais grand-chose i?? dire. Alors je me tais. >>” Towards the end of L’Etranger, Meursault is told that he is considered to be taciturn and withdrawn. This taciturnity appears to be a somewhat central theme to the book, not only in the character of Meursault but also in the writing style of Camus.
Throughout the book, there are examples of silence and inarticulateness, be they a deliberate, conscious part of the stylistics or just part of a Meursaults’ character. Firstly, Camus has written L’Etranger using very vague and ambiguous language. The sentence structure is very simple and unrevealing, everything is a case of, I did this, then I did that, then this happened, an almost childlike report or diary. ‘Meursault takes the stance of simply reporting these impressions, without attempting to create a coherent story from them.
‘ (David Anderson) This writing style encourages the reader to look deeper into what is being reported and explore the different possibilities of meaning. The reader then has the opportunity to become the consciousness of Meursault. This gives the book a greater variability, as each and every reader will have a different consciousness, thus giving the book a different slant. During Part One of L’Etranger, there are several occasions that highlight Meursault’s refusal to lie or waste time reflecting on the real meaning of things.
He will often reply to questions with ‘I don’t mind’ or something equally as non-committal or opinion free. “il m’a demandi?? encore si je voulais i?? tre son copain. J’ai dit que i?? a m’i?? tait i?? gal” Raymond is asking Meursault to be his friend, rather than saying that he would like it, Meursault simply say that he doesn’t mind. This could be seen as rude but it is simply Meursaults personality. It doesn’t really matter to him whether he becomes friends with Raymond or not, and he is not going to lie about it. After Raymond has a run in with the police, he asks Meursault what he expected him to do.
Meursault had not wasted time thinking about this and had no particular opinion and does not pretend otherwise. “J’ai ri?? pondu que je n’attendrais rien du tout” Despite his inarticulateness, Mersault is highly likeable and most people find it easy to get on with him. Rather than dislike his silence, he is actually given respect for it. When Ci?? leste is asked in court about Meursault, he comments about his taciturnity and says that he is, ‘ renfermi?? ‘ and that he, ‘ ne parlays pas pour ne rien dire’. For Meursault, silence is very important.
It creates for him some kind of emotional intensity, seen several times in L’Etranger. Firstly when he is keeping the vigil for his mother, he and the friends sit together in silence. Then again when he meets Marie at the baths, ‘Je sentais le ventre de Marie batter doucement. Nous sommes resti?? s longtemps sur la boui?? e, i?? moitii?? endormis. ‘, it is probably fair to say that if she had tried to talk to him the situation would have been far less enjoyable for him. When Meursault and Raymond become friends, Raymond sits in silence watching him.
This is also quite an intense moment for Raymond, and is the start of the situation that leads him to murder. The reverse of this, when he is placed into a noisy, intimidating situation like when Marie goes to visit him in prison and he is moved from the silence of his cell to the intense noise of the visiting room, he feels incredibly uncomfortable and almost scared. ‘ Quand je suis entri?? , le bruit des voix qui rebondissaient contre les grands murs nus de la salle, la lumii?? re crue qui coulait du ciel sur les vitres et rejaillissait dans la salle me causi?? rent une sorte d’i??
tourdissement. Ma cellule i?? tait plus calme et plus sombre. ‘ Mesault himself comments whilst in prison about his contentment at being alone and his uncommunicativeness, when he realises that he would be quit happy living in the trunk of a tree without anything to do but look up at the sky. For me, if Meursault were anymore outspoken or forthright, the book would have taken on a completely different meaning. As it is, you have to judge Meursault and his behaviour, but since he does not like to give his opinion often, or try and defend himself, this is difficult.
One could think of him as strange, a reject and an outsider and judge him as that, or you accept him as a truly honest man who loves simple pleasures and works quite hard. Personally, at times, I find his inability or lack of desire to express a strong opinion quite frustrating, but all the same I find myself empathising with him. What is the point in expressing an opinion when it makes no real difference whether you do or you don’t? I don’t think his silence is caused by a conscious decision not to speak, more a refusal to lie, even to make his life easier. As Camus himself says in 1955,
‘he refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. ‘ Meursault cannot be accused of ever saying more than he feels; when Marie asks if he loves he, being totally honest and chancing losing her, he says’ cela ne voulait n’en dire, mais qu’il me semblait que non’. Nor can he be accused of trying to make life easier for himself, even in the courtroom he voluntarily admits to things that could damage his case.
When asked if he had anything to say in his defence after the testimony of the caretaker, Meursault simply says,’ Rien, ai-je ri?? pondu, seulement que le ti?? moin a raison. Il est vrai que je lui ai offert une cigarette. ‘ Its is clear that taciturnity is a highly important feature of Camus’s L’Etranger since it plays such a central role in influencing the reader’s ideas and opinions of Meursault and the events of the book. Without such silence the books would be a simple story of murder and the consequences, rather than a fascinating insight into a truly honest man. Word Count: 1000 Beth Mepstead Furness College.