By Margaret L. Press
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Extra resources for Chemehuevi: A Grammar and Lexicon
As for the narrator’s own language, which surrounds and besieges the telegram, it is less formal, and uses the familiar French term ‘maman’ for ‘m`ere’. It too conceals the reality of death, leaving open the question whether the narrator-character is troubled or not. But this language broadcasts its own inadequacy by the use of phrases like ‘perhaps’ and ‘I don’t know’. 14 The Stranger 15 This enables us to deﬁne the relationship between the telegram’s language and the narrator’s. The former is authoritative, sure of itself and closed to outside intervention; it does not tell us when the mother died, but it does inform us that it was itself composed ‘today’.
Chapter 2 The Stranger 4 Meursault’s languages The very ﬁrst paragraph of the novel poses the issue of language: Aujourdhui, maman est morte. Ou peut-ˆetre hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai rec¸u un t´el´egramme de l’asile: ‘M`ere d´ec´ed´ee. Enterrement demain. ’ Cela ne veut rien dire. C’´etait peut-ˆetre hier. (Mother died today. Or perhaps yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the home: ‘Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. ’ That doesn’t mean anything. ) (9) Two different kinds of language are juxtaposed as the narrator, an unidentiﬁed ‘I’, reads a text sent by ‘the home’ which is, as we later learn, an organ of the state.
Whether this explanation allows the reader retrospectively to interpret Part 1 is a separate issue and it is my opinion that it does not. The two parts do not ﬁt neatly together, and the more disturbing features of Part 1 must be forgotten before the reader’s sympathy and understanding may be won. The language of dissidence must, for example, become less an interrogation of itself and more an irony that mocks the judges. The second and more difﬁcult conclusion is that in Part 1 Meersault’s awareness is not, as Sartre maintained, ‘a pure passivity’ (Sartre, ‘Explication de L’Etranger’, p.