Albert Camus

Albert Camus (pronounced as is a French author, philosopher and journalist born on 7 Nov 1913. A Nobel Prize Laureate at the age of 44 in 1957, the second youngest recipient in history, left an indelible mark in French Literature.

I read his brilliant novel “L’Étranger” (1942) called “The Outsider” in UK and “The Stranger” in US. This novel was completely different from any novel I had read. It changed my pattern of thinking, and actually helped me take life a little easy as I understood the word absurd in totality.

Absurdism as a belief system was born of the European existentialist movement that ensued, specifically when Camus rejected certain aspects of that philosophical line of thought and published his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Camus uses the analogy of the Greek myth of “Sisyphus” to demonstrate the futility of existence.

In the myth, Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill, but when he reaches the summit, the rock will roll to the bottom again. Camus believes that this existence is pointless but Sisyphus ultimately finds meaning and purpose in his task, simply by continually applying himself to it. 

Camus believed that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning of life.

According to Albert Camus, the world or the human being is not in itself absurd. The concept only emerges through the juxtaposition of the two, where life becomes absurd due to the incompatibility between human beings and the world they inhabit.

The aftermath of World War II provided the social environment that stimulated absurdist views and allowed for their popular development, especially in the devastated country of France. His views contributed to the rise of the existentialism but he rejected the existentialist label, and considered his works concerned with facing the absurd.

In the novel “L’Étranger”, the protagonist Meursault doesn’t weep at his mother’s funeral. He considers her loss as normal. Life continues, he goes swimming, watches a comedy film and spends the night with Marie, an ex- colleague (a typist), a day after the funeral. A few chapters ahead, he shoots a man (an Arab).

In the second part of the novel, he has an outburst about his frustrations and the absurdity of the human condition, He expresses anger about others, saying that they have no right to judge him for his actions or for who he is, that no one has the right to judge another. He bluntly blames the heat and the reflection of the sun falling on the knife that hit his eyes which provoked him to shoot/defend himself. Meursault is found guilty and is sentenced to death by execution (La Guillotine).

In 1957, Albert Camus wrote an essay Reflections on the Guillotine (Réflexions sur la Guillotine). I particularly connected with the following sentence which sums up Capital Punishment

Justice of this kind is obviously no less shocking than the crime itself, and the new “official” murder, far from offering redress for the offense committed against society, adds instead a second defilement to the first.”

Executions with the help of the guillotine were used in France before the death penalty was abolished in 1981.

Camus silently through his novels was protesting against Capital Punishment and telling people about the absurdity of life. He wrote about a particular theme with the help of a cycle to convey his ideas. Each cycle consisted of a novel, an essay and a theatrical play.  The first was the cycle of the absurd consisting of L’ÉtrangerLe Mythe de Sysiphe and Caligula. The second was the cycle of the revolt which included La Peste (The Plague), L’Homme révolté (The Rebel) and Les Justes (The Just Assassins). The third, the cycle of the love, consisted of Nemesis. Each cycle was an examination of a theme with the use of a pagan myth and including biblical motifs. 

Here was a mission that Camus wanted to accomplish. He wanted people from all walks of life to experience what he feels, through the written medium and through drama. And I believe he achieved it.

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