Where I Stand 04/03/16

Much of the criticism surrounding Camus’s fictional works revolves around the silence of the Arab characters in them.  This is in fact a more interesting observation than the likes of O’Brien (the most famous of the accusers) actually realised.  All the Arab figures in Exile and the Kingdom contain an almost stoical silence.  In ‘The Adulterer’ they view and are seen as disdainfully impervious to the pied-noir couple and it is the silent dignity of the Arab prisoner in ‘The Guest’ that (perhaps) results in the teacher’s actions of allowing him to choose his fate.  ‘Silence,’ as Camus would say with regards to his refusal to speak publicly about the war in Algeria, ‘is not a negative position.’  In fact as Tony Judt points out:

Where no one was wholly in the right and where writers and philosophers were invited to lend their support partisan political positions, silence, in Camus’s view, represented an extension of his early promise to himself to speak out for the truth, however unpopular. (p.120)

But his feelings towards the notion of silence were greater than that.  They had a further moral significance.  This was of course related to the silence of his deaf and mute mother, who seems to have been the only soft and comforting influence (other than the sun, the sea and the landscape of Algeria) in an otherwise rough and cold-hearted upbringing.

With this in mind the silence of the Arabs within his texts take on a significant moral perspective. As Camus stated in his journalism in 1947 (around the time of the publication of The Plague and some years before the war began) that the German occupation of France was of the same nature of France’s actions in its colonies.  Of course what was really so unfair about O’Brien’s attack was it ignored Camus’s journalism which contained enough to fill more than one book on the subject of the injustices that the Arabs were being forced to endure.  Camus’s silent Arabs are instead the repression of a moral good within Algeria they are associated with his mother and the sun and the sea – that is to say the landscape of Algeria or the silent sharer of Camus’s inner emotional life.

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