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The question is on this passage is from L'Étranger by Camus, in which the examining magistrate (il) interrogates Meursault (moi) as a murder suspect.

Mais il m’a coupé et m’a exhorté une dernière fois, dressé de toute sa hauteur, en me demandant si je croyais en Dieu. J’ai répondu que non. Il s’est assis avec indignation. Il m’a dit que c’était impossible, que tous les hommes croyaient en Dieu, même ceux qui se détournaient de son visage. C’était là sa conviction et, s’il devait jamais en douter, sa vie n’aurait plus de sens. « Voulez-vous, s’est-il exclamé, que ma vie n’ait pas de sens ? » À mon avis, cela ne me regardait pas et je le lui ai dit. Mais à travers la table, il avançait déjà le Christ sous mes yeux et s’écriait d’une façon déraisonnable : « Moi, je suis chrétien. Je demande pardon de tes fautes à celui-là. Comment peux-tu ne pas croire qu’il a souffert pour toi ? » J’ai bien remarqué qu’il me tutoyait, mais j’en avais assez. La chaleur se faisait de plus en plus grande. Comme toujours, quand j’ai envie de me débarrasser de quelqu’un que j’écoute à peine, j’ai eu l’air d’approuver. À ma surprise, il a triomphé : « Tu vois, tu vois, disait-il. N’est-ce pas que tu crois et que tu vas te confier à lui ? » Évidemment, j’ai dit non une fois de plus. Il est retombé sur son fauteuil.

Question

Is there any basis to infer sincerity or solicitousness from tutoyait as the English translators have done?

If I were to set up the question a bit more exactly I would say the following.

Presumably the magistrate's addressing him as tu meant something to Meursault. There are two clues on what that might have been. Meursault

  • takes particular note of it and

  • contrasts it with his en avoir assez, a "bad" thing, and thereby broadly classifies the tutoyer as a "good" thing.

The English translators, not being able to duplicate the vous vs. tu distinction, had to resort to an explicit characterization. Namely, Meursault saw sincerity or solicitousness in the magistrate's tutoyer.

The question is whether a native French speaker would say something so definite and specific as that.

If not, what would he, the native French speaker, say about it? What would he say the magistrate's tutoyer probably signified to Meursault (based on the evidence in the text, namely the notice and the contrast)?

English translations

Stuart Gilbert:

While I was talking, he thrust the crucifix again just under my nose and shouted: "I, anyhow, am a Christian. And I pray Him to forgive you for your sins. My poor young man, how can you not believe that He suffered for your sake?"
     I noticed that his manner seemed genuinely solicitous when he said, "My poor young man"--but I was beginning to have enough of it.

Matthew Ward:

But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally, "I am a Christian. I ask Him to forgive you your sins. How can you not believe that He suffered for you?" I was struck by how sincere he seemed, but I had had enough.

  • 1
    "not being able to duplicate the vous vs. tu", I'd have tried to switch from using the family name to using the first name. – Un francophone Jan 21 '16 at 13:34
  • That translation is poor. I noticed he was addressing me informally by my first name. That would do the trick. – Lambie Apr 27 '16 at 16:43
  • That may have sounded unnatural, as I don't think his first name is known. :) – Pwassonne Apr 27 '16 at 16:59
  • I don't read the contrast between en avoir assez and tutoiement as meaning that tutoiement is a good thing. I read it as possibly meaning that he intended to react, perhaps to object even, to the magistrate using tu with him, but that he was too tired to do so. – qoba Aug 6 '18 at 16:28
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This question seems more related to social interactions than pure French language, but here are my two cents about it :

Tutoyer is informal, while vouvoyer is more formal. In this example, the fact that the magistrate switches to "tu" instead of "vous" would indeed indicate a willingness to get more "personnal", closer to Meursault, as someone you know might be, on the contrary of someone using "vous", implying some kind of distance. This also explains why Meursault contrasts it with "en avoir assez", which seems to me to be perfectly transcripted in the translation.

  • Thank you. Would you say that "sincere" and "solicitous" are over-specifications, not justified by the text or broader social interactions? – Catomic Jan 21 '16 at 12:52
  • I agree with Laurent. To answer to you, I think it's a little bit over-specifications. I guess here it's to show his madness. – Julien Dryepondt Jan 21 '16 at 13:20
  • These are over-specifications indeed, assumed (but from where I see it, good assumption) by the translator. "sincerity" and "solicitude" are indeed in the scope of tutoiement, but a lot of other feelings might be in this scope. – Laurent S. Jan 21 '16 at 13:46
  • A lot of other feelings including contempt or a sense of superiority, or even a Christian idea of fraternity. – Pwassonne Apr 27 '16 at 17:00
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Adding to Laurent's answer, it may also be that someone switches to tu when high on emotions.

This actually happened to me recently when, during a formal but (friendly) hated discussion someone said tu parles ! ". This is not tutoiement but shows that some expressions may be influenced by emotions, yielding a short-term tutoiement which then switches back to vous

2

C'est exactement la réaction du juge qui sort de son rôle impartial et se laisse envahir par sa croyance qui lui ordonne de combattre les hérétiques, ou au moins de les ramener sous sa coupe, qui ne peut accepter que l'Autre vive dans un monde différent du sien.

Pour un juge démocratique, il se comporte comme un inquisiteur et va suivre les même procédure... jusqu'à la mort.

Meursault le pousse dans ses limites de raisonnement, dans son incapacité a accepter que les autres ne soient pas lui-même, il est "dos au mur", il se rend compte que Meursault est aussi un homme, et il fait une manœuvre amoureuse : je cède un peu de moi, je te confie un secret, mais c'est pour mieux t'avoir à ma merci.

Ce tu est un cadeau (empoisonné) que l'homme juge fait à l'indigène (la scène se passe dans une colonie française) Meursault, en lui dévoilant un peu de lui-même, c'est une sorte de potlatch, il en attend en retour un cadeau encore plus grand : l'acceptation de Dieu comme seul maître.

Meursault, intègre dans ses pensées lui fait comprendre... qu'il ne l'a pas compris.

1

Like @laurentS said for the general meaning of the tutoiement.

I will clarify in this context of Camus: the sudden switching to "tu" is an attempt to get closer to convince the other, but it is in the same time an unsollicited entrance in some's privacy. The text clearly shows an act of despair / bullying, and it annoys Mersault who fakes to agree with the judge. Then the judge express victory thinking he convinced Mersault, which he did not.

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