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The Silent Men

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"The Silent Men" (French "Les muets") is a short story written in 1957. It is the third short story published in the volume Exile and the Kingdom by Albert Camus.

Plot summary

"The Silent Men" is the story of a day in the life of a forty year old cooper named Yvars. Yvars, despite being crippled in one leg and already suffering from the onset of old age travels to work every day by bicycle to support his wife Fernande and his son, who is not named.

As a young man, Yvars enjoyed spending his time on the beach where he lived, meeting girls and swimming. However as Yvars grows older he begins to spend more of his time working, including more and more overtime in order to make ends meet to the point where he no longer looks at the sea on his way to work as it no longer offers him the carefree weekends of his youth. This is due to the birth of his son and the rising cost of living with which his wages do not keep up. His trade is in decreasing demand because metal tanks and motorized tankers are replacing traditional wooden barrels.

On the day presented in the story, Yvars arrives at work for the first time after an unsuccessful worker's strike. For the first time ever, the doors to the shop are closed as Yvars arrives. This is perceived as Lassalle (the boss) wielding his power over his employees one last time after successfully dismissing their demands.

Commencing work, Yvars is reminded again of his advancing age as he feels the strain of manual labor more than ever after being out of work for several days during the strike.

During the day, Lassalle visits the workshop and attempts to make peace with some of the workers but is ignored by all. Lassalle later calls Yvars (his most senior workman) and Marcou (his official delegate) to his office in a last attempt at convincing the workforce that he is unable to meet their demands but is prepared to make amends once business picks up. Marcou snubs Lassalle's efforts and Yvar follows suit leaving in a verbal display of hostility.

Later in the day Ballester, the workshop foreman announces that Lassalle's daughter has collapsed suddenly and an ambulance is called to take her away. The workmen continue to work on in silence but Ballester soon calls the end of the day and the men tidy their workbenches and go to the locker rooms.

On his return journey, Yvars is haunted by thoughts of Lassalle's daughter and regrets not going to talk to him before he left. Hurrying home, Yvars joins his wife and son and spends the afternoon looking out over the sea.

Motifs

Priorities

At the beginning of Yvars' day, he is totally preoccupied with his financial difficulties and he lets this get in the way of his happiness and his family life. All of their workmen allow their financial situation to turn them against Laselle who was previously liked by all and none of them are willing to even consider that Laselle may genuinely be in the same situation as themselves. After the news of Lassalle's daughter, Yvars' priorities are put back in to perspective and he hurries home to his family. Even though the struggling workmen have been further deprived of money by the strike, everyone seems to understand when Ballester calls the end of the day early.

The Common Fate

A common theme in the works of Camus is that death is the common fate of all. From the rich to the poor, privileged to the destitute, the guilty to the innocent, the old and sometimes the young. Death is inescapable and makes all equal in the end. Just like Father Paneloux and the plague-stricken young boy in Camus' The Plague, death belittles our other problems and emphasizes man's struggle to make sense of what he has.

Source

The Plague, The Fall, Exile and The Kingdom and Selected Essays (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics) (Hardcover) by Albert Camus (Author), David Bellos (Introduction), Stuart Gilbert (Translator), Justin O'Brien (Translator)

See also

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