‘The Stranger’ by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke, Rainer Maria 1900

The Stranger by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1900

The magic trick:

Focusing the story on the narrative’s audience: the stranger

There’s something intense going on here, and I fear it’s working on a level that is beyond my comprehension. The key, as the title alludes to, is the stranger. The stranger is the story’s audience. I can’t think of another story that uses this technique. The narrator is in control. His tone is one of intelligence and assuredness. But the stranger seems to drive the narrative somehow. He is the reason for the story being told. What exactly that means in relation to Jesus and the resurrection and the possible return? I have nothing more than feeble guesses. But I know it’s an interesting way to tell a story. And that’s quite a trick on Rilke’s part.

The selection:

I welcome him once more with the words: “You know, I have been expecting you for a long time.”

And before the stranger even has time to be surprised I explain. “I know a tale I don’t want to tell to anyone but you; don’t ask me why, just tell me whether you are comfortable, whether the tea is sweet enough, and whether you would like to hear the tale.”

My guest could not contain a smile.

Then he simply replied: “Yes.”

“Yes to all three?”

“To all three.”


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