Discuss the style that Camus uses in The Stranger.
Discuss two specific moments, words, phrases, sentences, that shock or upset or intrigue etc. Explain the impact. How does the style change in the second half of the book?
Albert Camus uses a plain / tough narrative style, featuring a detached narrator. Meursault matter-of-factly opens the novel with one of the most deadpan openings ever:
Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from home: ‘mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday.
There's a couple of ways to look at Meursault's tone. First, he narrates from prison (death row), so he may be under such duress that he cannot remember the day she dies. Or, as most people suggest, Meursault does not remember, or even care what day his mother died, because he does not concern himself with the culture of death. In other words, Meursault's tone is fatalistic because he feels he is being condemned by a deterministic culture that negates free will.
Another key passage is the murder narration:
“At the same instant the sweat in my eyebrows dripped down over my eyelids all at once and covered them with a warm, thick film. My eyes were blinded behind the curtain of tears and salt. All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes. That’s when everything began to reel. The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. 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 sun. I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.”
Here, Meursault uses much sensory imagery and metaphorical language, featuring the sun and knife. The plain / tough style of Camus' narrator is patterned after Ernest Hemingway's macho journalistic style. The "tough guy" word choice is full of the following:
- -high frequency words
- -monosyllabic words
- -contractions, articles
- -1st person pronouns
- -action verbs, active tense
- -Anglo-Saxon words
- -simple sentences
- -short, choppy
- -compound sentences (lots of coordinating conjunctions “and”)
- -1st Person (I –oriented)