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In Camus' The Stranger, and Yoshimoto's Kitchen, both authors use the literary technique of pathetic fallacy - a branch of personification - which gives to the weather and physical world, human attributes. In both texts, this technique enriches the narratives both aesthetically and in terms of meaning - by telling the inner emotions of the characters. However, while in Kitchen, the pathetic fallacy is employed throughout the text, in The Stranger, it takes centre stage only at the most crucial point in the book - with Meursault, the protagonist killing the Arab. This paper will examine the purpose of both authors in using the pathetic fallacy, and the significance each place on this technique.
Yoshimoto places great emphasis on the pathetic fallacy, using it frequently. This frequency is due largely to the cultural context of the story. Kitchen is based in Japan, where a culture of covert and coded language abounds in daily life and conversation; in a country where there are two social modes - 'honne', one's true but generally hidden feelings, and 'tatemae', the feelings which one shows when in public and which literally means 'facade'. Thus, the pathetic fallacy is Yoshimoto's way of augmenting the 'honne' moments of her protagonist, Mikage. In the weather and the elements we see reflected, Mikage's deep and true emotions; emotions which a culture of facetious conversations has made difficult to convey, even in moments of self conversation - the 'honne'
In Camus' The Stranger, the justification for the use of the pathetic fallacy lies, not in culture, as is in Yoshimoto's Kitchen, but in characterization, Meursault being set up as the absurd man. Meursault's killing of the Arab is at a crossroads in definition: Is it a murder, and thus an 'act,' or is it merely an 'event.' The pathetic fallacy of the scene dissuades an 'act' definition by incriminating "the sweat and sun" (Camus 59). Thus, Meursault is absolved of murder, and the killing of the Arab becomes just an "event." If Meursault's killing of the Arab is not premeditated, motivated, wilful, nor intended, then Meursault kills in a state of absurd indifference. This absurd indifference is seen throughout the story in Meursault's reaction to events - the most poignant being in his apparent lack of emotion at his mother's death. Even the nature of the pathetic fallacy speaks of absurd indifference - as opposed to Kitchen where the pathetic fallacy speaks of the emotions within, there are no emotions reflected in Camus' The Stranger.
In Yoshimoto's Kitchen, the pathetic fallacy marks all the highlights of Mikage's story. Mikage struggles with sadness and immense loneliness after the death of her grandmother, gains hope with her entry into the Tanabe household, where her relationship with Eriko (the transgendered mother) and Yuichi (his/her son) grows past friendship into one akin to family. She is then plunged once more into a deeper loneliness with the death of Eriko, and once again gains hope in the knowledge that in Yuichi she has someone to walk with through the darkness and loneliness of life. Throughout this double cycle, the pathetic fallacy features. Its purpose: to give more insight on the emotions of loneliness and hope. With Mikage's initial sadness, she thinks: "Outside, the stars are glittering, lonely" (Yoshimoto 6). Overthrowing the light - filled, bright and hopeful connotations of "glittering," Mikage's stronger emotion of loneliness presides and creates a climactic effect as the final word of the sentence. In her present state, Mikage's sight is coloured, seeking and thus seeing as more pronounced, the negative connotation of those "glittering stars." With Mikage settling into the Tanabe house, she thinks, "By now, the rain had stopped, and the atmosphere, sparkling, replete with moisture, refracted the glittering night splendidly" (16). The ended rain serves doubly - depicting the physical situation as well as heralding Mikage's ended sorrow and loneliness. The "glittering" night in this case is thankfully left alone to ring with all its positive connotations; without the show - spoiling, depressing adjective "lonely"(6) or its companions.
With the reoccurrence of death, loss and with them, sorrow, Mikage says: "I watched the gloomy clouds of the orange of the sunset spreading across them in the western sky. Soon, the cold night would descend and fill the hollow in my heart" (56). Scenery which in better circumstances would have been a beautiful sunshine and the coming of a peaceful night, become "gloomy" and "cold." Thus, the "spreading" and "descen[t]" are not really of the sunset, or of the night, but of the sorrow that comes with loss. With the reappearance of hope in the final cycle, the pathetic fallacy is both a reflection on the past, as well as an evidence of tenacious hope. Mikage says: "The moon shone down from high above, crossing the sky, erasing the stars in its path. It was full. I watched it go behind a cloud, completely hidden, and re-emerge" (94). Stars usually have a positive connotation as they hold light in the sea of the night's darkness However, in this scene, there is a seeming contradiction as they are "eras[ed]" (96). This is however merely 'seeming' because with the full moon, an atmosphere more positive than that of stars in a dark night is created. The moon leaves a bright trail in its wake, and thus though the "glittering" (16) of stars is no longer visible, the stars are left NOT "lonely" (6). The cloud and the period of time when the cloud is "completely hidden" represent Mikage's periods of loneliness. The moon's "re-emerg[ence]" is the triumph of hope in the Mikage's double cycles. It is also a declaration of eternal, tenacious hope in the future as Mikage realizes that indeed cycles of pain, sorrow, suffering, and loneliness will reoccur; but that the final and climactic word (as in the sentence), would be the full moon - the hope, "re-emerge[d]." The use of pathetic fallacy encapsulates Mikage's epiphany, which in words she later puts thus: "Over and over, we begin again" (103). It marks the high point of Yoshimoto's narrative
The only scene the pathetic fallacy is used in Camus' The Stranger represents the focal point in the story. Acting both as the literal centre of the book (as it occurs on page 58 of my 122-page edition), and the symbolic centre and pivot, this scene encapsulates the Absurd of the novel. As Meursault stands on the beach and under the "scorching" (Camus 58) Algerian sun, the oppressive setting leads him to his fate. He describes it thus: "But the whole beach, throbbing in the sun, was pressing on my back. I took a few steps towards the spring [and towards the Arab]" (Camus 58), and later on: "It was this burning [of the sun], which I couldn't stand anymore, and made me move forward" (Camus 59). In the former, the pathetic fallacy is an actual personification of the beach and sun as performing an otherwise human action - "pressing", whereas in the latter, the pathetic fallacy manifests as agency given to the sun to "ma[k]e" or enact Meursault's reaction of moving forward. The intense heat is reflected in the last climatic imagery which goes: "It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire" (Camus 59). The literary device in use is however, not the pathetic fallacy, but the simile as it fully acknowledges subjectivity with the diction of "seemed." The literary techniques highlight the absurd nature of Meursault and the story, since saying 'I killed a man because it was hot' would be foolish. Part of the absurd is that Meursault is aware of the absurdity in which he lives, as is seen when he says: "I knew that it was stupid, that I wouldn't get the sun off me by stepping forward" (Camus 59). This scene is thus vital for an understanding of the absurd nature of the story - the politics behind Camus' writing it.
However, throughout these examples, I see a fundamental failure of the pathetic fallacy. Indeed, John Ruskin, who coined the term, had good cause to name it "pathetic fallacy" (though the 'pathetic' is meant in an emotive as opposed to pejorative sense). Its fallacy is in the emotionally-tinted bias through which the readers are forced to read - as in Kitchen, or in the concepts sold to the reader - as with the concept of 'absurdity' in Camus' The Stranger. As a result, the same stars were at one point "glittering, lonely"(6) and at another, glittering splendidly"(16) with a mere change in disposition. Thus, the "gloomy clouds of the orange of the sunset" (Yoshimoto 56) could well have been a beautiful sunset in moments of happiness; and the oppressive, "scorching sun" (Camus 59), splendid and perfect for sun tanning. The solution would be to use the "seem[s]" (59) of a simile. This would herald the subjectivity of a particular paradigm, without losing the deep insights which the pathetic fallacy affords.