The Stranger, by Albert Camus centres around the protagonist Meursault, an emotionless and indifferent individual. As a result of his nonchalant attitude, he is often viewed as psychologically detached. This is reflected in Camus’ use of succinct sentences and simple diction employed in the novel. His writing style not only reflects Meursault’s indifferent attitude but also reveals a lack of interaction with others. In the latter half of the novel, however, Camus contrasts this objective style with a more complex writing style, which serves to emphasize a more profound level of introspective thought. There are detailed descriptions of pivotal events in Meursault’s life such as the death of the Arab, as he reflects upon them during his time in prison. With a change in the writing style, Meursault is revealed as reflective and responsive to events around him. Thus, in The Stranger, Camus employs a shift in writing style, which transitions from a clear and direct style towards the usage of expressive and descriptive sentences, in order to emphasize the change in Meursault’s perspective.
Camus introduces an objective perspective and a direct writing style in the opening paragraph of the novel, “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.”(3). Though the news of his mother’s death may be heartbreaking or even overwhelming, Meursault appears to be perturbed about the untimely date of the death. The atypical behaviour that Meursault exhibits, reveals that he simply notes on his objective observations of events such as the passing of his mother. Throughout this passage, the sentences Meursault uses while he reflects on his mother’s death are succinct, short and direct creating dissonance. This reveals Meursault’s deviant state, supported by his dispassionate comments on his mother’s death. The sentences also reflect an apathetic tone, conveying Meursault’s detachment through basic and simplistic writing. Here, Meursault is a mere observer in a society lacking any reflection and this apathy can be seen as Meursault presenting the smallness and irrelevance of his mother’s death in the grand universe. However, the word “maman” is to be noted as it conveys sympathy and attachment to the mother. The word could have easily been replaced with “mother” to highlight the indifference, however, Camus utilizes “maman” to convey Meursault’s indifference to her death. There is a certain absurdity in that as it reveals Meursault as idiosyncratic, and someone who is judged as peculiar by society.
In relationships, love is expected to be based on more than appearance, as it is seen as a universal emotion necessary for building intimate connections. Throughout the first half of the novel, Meursault’s relationship with Marie is primarily one of physical attraction and, as such, he is portrayed as rather apathetic in this relationship. Meursault simply observes the physical aspects of Marie’s beauty rather than reflecting on the emotions he feels during their sexual interactions. His objective perspective is most evident in his descriptions of her, where he mentions “You could make out the shape of her firm breasts, and her tan made her face look like a flower”(34). Here, Camus’s writing style is disturbingly flat and objective, depicting Meursault as a narrator. Though the sentence itself is not as short, the diction is essential in revealing that Meursault is simply describing what is seen on the outside, a mere description of the physical beauty he sees. There is a conscientious amount of detail used to describe Marie’s breasts and her face providing a clear image of her physical appearance. With the lack of description about Marie’s psychological personality, Meursault proves to be a stranger that is reporting on his first-hand observations. In this case, Meursault’s matter-of-fact tone indicates that he views himself as an outsider in society, who exists purely to observe, rather than having any sentimental attachment or emotional value to what he observes. Furthermore, there is imagery present in the sentence that is used to objectify Marie, as he compares her to a flower. The language is rather detached as if Meursault himself was not involved in the action, further exemplifying his apathetic attitude.
Near the end of the first half of the novel, there is a clear shift in a writing style that details the progression of Meursault from being an observer in society to having an introspective perspective. For instance,
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“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 had been happy.” (59)
Here, Camus utilizes a complex writing style and elaborate diction to establish Meursault as a reflective character. There is figurative language as he continues to describe the grotesque killing and compares it to entering an unhappy state of mind. The description of the gunshot sound being “sharp and deafening” depicts how Meursault reflectively interacts with pivotal events in his life. With the “shattering of the harmony and the silence of the beach”, Meursault recognizes that the shooting of the Arab had changed his life forever. This realization is primarily through Camus’ use of the metaphor of “knocking on the door of unhappiness”(59) signifying that Meursault recognizes his actions as well reflects on the consequences of his actions. The descriptive language alongside vivid imagery allows the reader to understand the scenario from Meursault’s reflective perspective rather than an objective eye. The complex sentence structure also reveals the tension and ambiguity associated with the situation. The fact that Meursault had just taken a life, what he previously viewed as being irrelevant in the grand scheme of the universe, made him unhappy. This in itself is a progression of emotion displayed through the writing style, which further accentuates the shift in his perspective.
The second half of the novel is much more retrospective in comparison to the first as it offers a reflective commentary on the pivotal events in Meursault’s life. During his time in prison, Meursault recounts various events in his life and discusses their impact on him. He is much more lenient about expressing his emotions, the large majority of which he previously regarded as arbitrary. The lines, “Maybe at one time, way back, I had searched for a face in them. But the face I was looking for was as bright as the sun and the flame of desire – and it belonged to Marie.” (119) exemplify Meursault’s reflection on the memories he had created with Marie during their intimate moments. This feeling of realization that he truly did desire Marie aside from the physical aspects makes him a part of the society as he interacts with it. Meursault also has an epiphany as he reflects on his memories and observations;“Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living.” (121) Furthermore, he details the effect of events on his state of mind and reflects upon them as if they were the primary source of his joy.
The Stranger details two distinct writing styles, one that is clear and direct versus another which is complex and entails descriptive diction. These two contrasting styles are essential in revealing the shift in Meursault’s perspective from being an observer in a society that judges him as an outsider, to have a more reflective and introspective perspective in life. His objective perspective is most clearly evident through Meursault’s interactions with Marie as well as his dispassionate emotions regarding his mother’s death. He has a sense of apathy and indifference towards phenomena as he presents a simplistic view on existence through observation. Contrarily, his introspective perspective is revealed through the complex and detailed descriptions of his emotions as he retrospectively accentuates the significance of pivotal events in his life. In both cases, the diction and the writing style exemplify a narrator that goes through a progression in perspective, consequently allowing the reader to empathize with Meursault.