The Stranger in Three Novels by David Malouf: Introduction

Jörg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany

The experience of strangeness is an every-day experience. The notion of something that is strange can occur when we are confronted with people from other countries, when we ourselves travel to other places and even at home when we meet people who are unknown to us. When looking at etymology of the term stranger we see that it can have different connotations. The stranger can be a guest, a visitor, a completely unknown person, a new-comer and so on. In English the word stranger can also be used as a synonym for foreigner, other or enemy.

The term strangeness, however, does not only refer to people but also to situations, places, time or to behaviour of other people, even to unknown traits in ourselves. In that respect it is multi-dimensional and if we considered the aspect of place we could mean the physical place of an unknown country but also the mental map of thinking. These are, in fact, ways of labelling, ordering, naming and placing the world in our mind.

The first European settlers in Australia around the beginning of the nineteenth century were exactly confronted with that problem of putting a name to things. The land they conquered had only few similarities with what they were used to from home. The foreign country did not match their concept of an inhabitable place. Australia demanded new ways of perception, attitudes and ways of living. With their cultural background the settlers were not only isolated from their usual way of thinking but also -- geographically -- from the rest of the known world. The settlements advanced only slowly around the coast but had still vast spaces of land between them where nobody lived, which also added to the feeling of isolation and alienation.

David Malouf, an Australian author from this countrywho is the descendant of immigrants, takes up the subject of strangeness and alienation in his works. His novels An Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon and The Conversations at Curlow Creek serve as good examples to explore the encounter with the unknown, with the strange.

This document has been adapted by kind permission of the author from the English summary of "The Phenomenon of the Stranger in David Malouf's An Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon and The Conversations at Curlow Creek," his University of Kiel Master's thesis. You can contact Jörg Heinke at or visit his personal home page.

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