"—since the time of Moses the word had been acknowledged as being divine" (Lispector 79): The Importance of Language

in Macabea and Meursault’s Lives English A1 – Standard Level World Literature Paper 1 Jonathan Leschinski Candidate Number: 001415-042 1488 words

Page 2 Candidate 001415-042 Language is a vehicle for the expression of thoughts, perceptions, and sentiments. It gives individuals the means to interact with others: to develop friendships and relationships, to express emotions, and to simply coexist in society. Both Macabea and Meursault, in Hour of the Star and The Stranger respectively, have difficulty using language and only in their premature demise do they see its true power. Macabea is girl from the "North-East" (Lispector 18) living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rodrigo, the metafictional author of The Hour of the Star, explains that Macabea is “barely literate and had only three years of primary schooling” (23), which indicates her language ability is limited, a serious problematic in her job as a typist. Macabea was raised by an aunt who “taught [Macabea] to keep her head lowered” (28) which shows that any amount of expression from Macabea was repressed from an early age, something that continues into her adulthood. This has consequences for her relationships with others, particularly her first boyfriend, Olimpico. Similarly, Meursault’s failure to use language, because of his emotional detachment and apathy, has been present for a long time. The circumstances within the novel and Meursault's relationships, especially with his mother, make this very likely. From the very first sentence, his lack of emotional expression and laconic speech are visible: “Maman died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure” (Camus 3). Meursault also notes that they had nothing to say to each other when she lived with him. During Meursault's trial for murder, the court and jury focus heavily on his lack of demonstrable love for his mother, for which his defense is simply that “neither Mother nor I expected

Page 3 Candidate 001415-042 much of one another” (55). Despite the sincerity in his few short answers, his silence when asked twice whether he had a motive for killing the Arab sharply influences the ultimate decision to execute him for his crime. Mersault is seemingly oblivious to the importance of expressing himself to others so that they do not view him as a “monster” (99). Macabea, on the other hand, initially "believe[s] that to be well educated [is] the same as knowing how to tell lies" (Lispector 69). In saying this, she acknowledges that power and status are linked to being able to manipulate language. However she fails to see the importance of language as a means of social connection, self-expression and identity— perhaps a lasting effect of the way in which personal expression was discouraged in her childhood of abuse and neglect. Her marginal literacy means that even though she has a rich inner life of the spirit, she is unable to communicate it to anyone. Mersault, in contrast, appears to have the ability to use language adequately, however he has little to express and fails to see the importance of communicating it. The obstacles to Meursault and Macabea using language are depicted in a number of different circumstances in the novels, for example, their workplaces. Meursault is a Frenchman in colonial Algiers. While Meursault's exact occupation is unclear, at one point, he is offered a promotion to work at a “branch in Paris” (Camus 28), implying that his boss appreciates Meursault’s work and that Meursault has sufficient language skills to effectively fulfill his duties, since if he were sent to Paris, he would able to “deal with the big companies on the spot” (28). But because of Meursault’s failure to convey any positive response, Mersault's employer chooses not to promote him. Despite her lack of facility

Page 4 Candidate 001415-042 with language, Macabea works, ironically, as a typist. She finds, however, in her work there are “certain words whose meaning escape[…] her” (Lispector 39). This limited vocabulary in Portuguese in turn prevents her from fully expressing the deep yearnings and feelings in her, let alone doing her work properly. While in The Stranger, Mersault is offered a promotion, Macabea’s boss threatens that he may “only [be] able to keep on [Macabea’s] workmate, Gloria” (23). Macabea and Gloria both work as typists but Gloria is superior (according to Macabea) and comes from a better socioeconomic background than Macabea. Gloria can talk to Olimpico the way a woman is supposed to in order to attract his interest and her demeanour and mannerisms are more attractive than Macabea’s passivity. When Olimpico abandons Macabea for Gloria, even Macabea can see why and fails to protest, so her friendship with Gloria continues. Mersault is involved in a relationship with a woman named Marie. Due to Meursault’s failure to use language to express his feelings, their relationship appears to lack love or any true sentiment. He does care about her, for example, when he notes that going to the beach would make Marie happy. But when Mersault is “asked if [he]'d marry [Marie],” he simply remarks that he would not mind and only if she was “keen on it” (28). Understandably this frustrates Marie. His response makes it seem that he does not care about her at all, which is not true. Again, when asked "if [he] love[s] her" (28), Meursault's indifference to her implied display of feelings culminates with the apathetic and insensitive response that "[he] supposed [he] didn’t" (28). This scene indicates Marie’s obstacles in

Page 5 Candidate 001415-042 trying to establish a meaningful relationship with Meursault. Meursault does have thoughts of what may be interpreted as love, however he "somehow c[an't] bring [him]self to tell her so" (47) and thus any emotional attachment to Marie never seems to reach fruition for him and their relationship ends up being characterized as a dubious liaison in Meursault’s court trial, humiliating Marie and harming the jury’s perception of Meursault’s character. Like Meursault, Macabea is involved in a relationship that is not characterized by declared love and commitment. Macabea is very reserved when attempting to display emotion towards Olimpico; Rodrigo the narrator even comments that from the “first time she had ever spoken of herself to Olimpico” just how “afraid” (Lispector 49) she is. Macabea's dismal attempts at conveying frustration or despair only present a “laugh, because she has forgotten how to weep” (61). Language as a means of conveying emotion is critical to any relationship, however, like Meursault’s interactions with Marie, a lack of personal expression and emotional language is evident in Macabea’s relationship, and ultimately, when Olimpico is presented with confident, animated Gloria, he feels no “remorse for ditching Macabea” (65) Near the end of the novel, Gloria encourages Macabea to visit a fortuneteller, who gives Macabea uncharacteristic optimism about the future. After visiting Madame Carlota, Macabea is “[t]ransformed...by words” (79), only to have her life abruptly end. Macabea’s transformation reflects the importance of language. The fortuneteller’s “words” are able to completely change Macabea’s sense of herself and her future; she gives Macabea hope and happiness through mere language. The prophecy of a rich foreigner does not even have to

Page 6 Candidate 001415-042 come true. Upon her death, Macabea ushers in “a clear distinct voice…[a]s for the future” (84). The “future” refers to Macabea's curiosity about the notion that “as life gets more complicated [Macabea's] language can't keep up” (82). This concept translates into the progression of the novel's plot—as more exciting events (such as Olimpico) appear, her limited language causes them to deteriorate and disappear. This epiphany symbolises Macabea’s realisation of the effects that language can have on oneself and the consequences of her failure to make use of it. Similar to Macabea, there is an unexpected change of heart in Meursault before his anticipated death, in which he becomes more expressive, not only in his outburst to the priest but to himself, remarking: “all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration” (Camus 76). This exemplifies Mersault is coming to terms with the power of words. He is able to acknowledge just how important language can be to one’s life, and when he hopes for a crowd that will “howl[…] execration,” he shows his realization that language is a means of communicating emotion. Just as Macabea's life ends with her being positively apprehensive, Meursault too feels "that [he]’d been happy" (76). Despite their inability or reluctant to recognize the power of language, at the end of their stories, each character seems to acknowledge the importance of language. The author-narrator Rodrigo uses: “Everything in the world began with a yes” (Lispector 11) introduce the novel. The sentence states just how powerful language is; language expresses and shapes our perspectives and thus creates our individual worlds.

Page 7 Candidate 001415-042 The Hour of the Star and The Stranger demonstrate the importance of language and use different characters and stories to portray the adverse consequences to people who fail to harness language effectively. Moreover, the authors themselves, Camus and Lispector, are able to use written language to powerfully convey their ideas to us and, like gods, to create fictional worlds for us with “divine” words (79).

1488 words

Page 8 Candidate 001415-042 Works Cited Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage Books, 1989 Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. Trans. Giovanni Pontiero. New York: New Directions Books, 1992.

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