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Abby Broadhurst

IB English – Pd. 1
Mr. Jameson
December 7, 2012

Cacophonous Crossroads

In life it is not uncommon to hear the term “crossroads,” a term referring to the point

when a life-changing decision is made. Throughout the existentialist novel The Stranger, Albert

Camus, the author, captures the transformation of the Meursault, the main character. Throughout

the novel, Meursault’s indifference to the world develops as he eventually comes to support

existentialist beliefs such as that of free choice. Although this transformation evolves through

the novel, there is one scene in particular which heralds Meursault’s act of making a conscious

choice that will change his life forever. In essence, this is Meursault’s crossroads which begins

his personal journey. In this scene, at the conclusion of Part One, Meursault is walking along the

beach when he encounters the Arab who threatened his friend Raymond earlier in Chapter Six.

Despite recognizing that he has no personal issues with the Arab and that he can simply turn

around and leave, Meursault has Raymond’s gun and makes the conscious decision to murder the

Arab after a cacophonous scene of turmoil and confusion in which he seems to lose all sense of

reason. Throughout this passage, Camus uses various language features in order to augment the

suspense of the scene, highlighting the inner conflict Meursault experiences before making the

life transforming decision to commit murder.

In the first section of this passage, Camus’ language introduces the confrontation between

Meursault and the Arab as well as the overwhelming pressure Meursault feels as he is faced with

a decision that even his indifference cannot ignore. The passage begins as Meursault states “But

I took a step, one step, forward,” immediately after mentioning the possible repercussions

(Camus 59). While the transition word “but” acknowledges Meursault’s understanding of the
implications his actions entail, the repetition of the idea that it was only “one step forward”

emphasizes the importance of this seemingly insignificant step as it is symbolic of Meursault’s

entrance into a new life. After including simple language to dramatize the calm and threatening

demeanor of the Arab, who “[draws] his knife” and “[holds] it up” in the sun, Camus then

transforms the scene through violent connotations and vivid imagery in order to emphasize the

cacophonous environment Meursault perceives, his perceptions a reflection of his mental

distress. After the Arab displays the knife, Meursault notes how the light “[shoots] off the

steel…like a long flashing blade cutting at [his] forehead.” The violent connotation of both

“[shoots]” and “cutting” emphasizes the intensity of the scene as Meursault is bombarded by his

sensory perceptions. The strong language and light imagery which Camus employs implies that

the light of the sun, which is being reflected off the blade, is deliberately agitating Meursault.

Throughout this passage, the knife and the sunlight, which is a personified foil, are symbolic of

the pressure Meursault feels to make a decision. In accordance with this pressure, the vivid

“flashing” of the blade indicates the danger of the situation as it warns of deadly possibilities.

The relationship between sunlight and pressure is once again evident in this section as the

sunlight causes Meursault to begin sweating, the “warm, thick film” enveloping his eyes until he

is “blinded behind the curtain of tears and salt.” This metaphor is significant as it implies that

the sunlight, the pressure, has completely overwhelmed Meursault, obscuring his sense of reality

and reason. Throughout this section, Camus’ language introduces the recognition of the decision

to be made.

The absurdity of the situation continues in the second section as Camus expounds upon

Meursault’s inner conflict by emphasizing the cacophonous atmosphere. The sunlight is

especially important in this section as Camus further develops the relationship between the
overpowering sunlight and sense of pressure it exerts on Meursault. This is evident when

Meursault states that all he is aware of is “the cymbals of sunlight crashing” down on him,

representing how he is overwhelmed by the need to make a choice: to kill or to walk away. The

sound imagery and the violent connotation of “crashing” enhance the cacophony of the scene and

augment the growing tone of suspense as Meursault’s decision has not yet been made. In

addition to sound imagery, Camus also employs light imagery, reinforcing the symbolism of

sunlight as an assertive pressure. For instance, he states that the sunlight reflects off of the

“scorching” knife as a “dazzling spear” which “[slashes]” and “[stabs]” at Meursault’s eyes.

This language, which has a negative connotation and which personifies sunlight, brings attention

to the knife, the source of contention, and reemphasizes the idea that the sun is attacking

Meursault, asserting the immediacy of the situation and the importance of his coming decision.

At this point in the passage, Meursault mentions that “everything [begins] to reel,” implying that

his way of thinking has been in some way transformed by this confrontation with nature, his

inner-self. This transformation and continuing conflict is reinforced through Meursault’s

statement that the sea has a “thick, fiery breath” and that he expects the sky to “split open…to

rain down fire.” Both these statements contain oxymorons which refer to a conflict between the

elements, water and fire, and represent Meursault’s inner conflict. However, Meursault’s second

observation is especially indicative of his transformation as it is an indirect Biblical allusion to

the Book of Revelations. Just as raining fire signifies an end to the known world in the Bible, it

also signifies Meursault’s recognition that his life is about to change forever. The suspense and

cacophony of this scene is important as it heralds the climax of the novel: Meursault’s

transformation.
The final section of this passage returns to a seemingly peaceful tone as Meursault seems

to fully recognize and accept the extent and implications of his decision. The suspense of the

second section is essential to Meursault’s final choice as he finds his whole body “tensed” and so

“[squeezes his] hand around the revolver,” murdering the Arab. However, Meursault does not

admit to murder but simply states that “the trigger [gives] and that “in that noise, sharp and

deafening…is where is all [starts].” Although “sharp” and deafening” have negative

connotations which reflect the morality of his actions, Meursault’s’ language is surprisingly calm

and clear otherwise. His simple statement of the noise being “where it all [starts]” undermines

the severity of his decision and reinforces the contrast between Meursault’s views and those

typical of society. The simple language, in addition to Meursault’s statement that he “[shakes]

off the sweat and sun” implies that by making that decision, by choosing to kill, Meursault

essentially eliminates the pressure and finds peace in having made his own choice. His

acceptance of his decision is evident through his calm tone as he openly recognizes the

implications of his actions, noting how he has “shattered the harmony of the day.” The contrast

between the connotations of “shattered” and “harmony” introduce the new conflict that

Meursault will now face, not that of whether to kill but how to live the rest of his life having

killed. The chapter concludes when Meursault states that he “[fires] four more times” and

mentions how it is like “knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.” When

Meursault fires additional shots, even recognizing his involvement by saying “I fired,” it is clear

that the murder is a conscious choice and cannot be blamed on outside factors. The concluding

simile is especially significant as the door, symbolic of new opportunities, signifies Meursault’s

entrance into a new life and a new way of thinking. The calm and simple language employed

throughout the final section reinforce Meursault’s acceptance of his future outlook.
Throughout Meursault’s ensuing experiences in the novel, the beginning of his

transformation can be traced back to this passage in which Camus deliberately adapts his

language to create meaningful effect. Throughout the first two sections of this scene, Camus

utilizes vivid language to enhance Meursault’s inner turmoil as he struggles to make the ultimate

decision of whether or not to kill the Arab. The strong language also reinforces the sense of

growing tension as Meursault’s upcoming decision is unclear. However, there is an obvious

change in Camus’ use of language once Meursault notes how everything is reeling and has

recognized that he is entering a new life. Upon this recognition, Meursault’s inner struggle and

the cacophony of the scene essentially disappear as Camus begins incorporating simple

language, thereby establishing a much calmer tone to indicate Meursault’s acceptance of his new

life. This passage is the climax of the novel as it heralds the beginning of Meursault’s

transformation. Not only does he make the conscious choice to kill but he also accepts the

decision and any consequences it entails. This scene is essential to the novel as the evolution in

language reflects the transformation in character as Meursault is first introduced to the

existentialist ideas of struggle and free choice. Camus cleverly develops this passage in order to

highlight the transformation in Meursault’s character and provide an introduction to his future

outlook in the novel.

Word Count: 1,494 / 1,500