The Absurds In 1940, Albert Camus arrived in Paris where he was

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The Absurds


In 1940, Albert Camus arrived in Paris where he was to work as a reporter for the newspaper Paris-Soir. Unfortunately, the Nazis were not far off, so the newspaper's staff left Paris for Clermont-Ferrand. The stay in Clermont-Ferrand was brief, as the Nazis moved onward, and Camus found himself in Bordeaux. During this period Camus, like many others, was forced to travel lightly -- carrying only essential items in case it became necessary to flee France entirely. Among his possessions were three manuscripts, which he called "The Absurds."

The Absurds defined Camus to other French intellectuals; Sartre considered them Camus' best philosophical works. The Absurds are the following works:

  • Novel: L'Etranger

  • Essays: Le Mythe de Sisyphe

  • Play: Caligula

For Camus, the absurd was not negative, not a synonym for "ridiculous," but the true state of existence. Accepting the view that life is absurd is to embrace a "realistic" view of life: the absence of universal logic. This approach to philosophy is more radical than Nietzsche's "God is dead." One might rephrase Camus' absurdism as "God? No thanks… I'm on my own."

Many mistakenly believe Camus saw no meaning in life; even Camus and Nietzsche seek "meaning" in life, but not in manners familiar to most. For Camus, meaning was in the human experience. Absurdity does not render life meaningless -- people have meaning because they interact with each other, while remaining in control of their own destinies.


The Stranger (l'Étranger, Written 1938, Published 1942; 1946 English)


The first of "The Absurds" written by Albert Camus, The Stranger defines Camus for most Americans. The novel is simple, with none of the diversions common in popular literature. The main character is not a hero, has no "true" love affair, and the pursuit of money and power never enters into the story. The Stranger is an honest atheist, willing to accept his life as it happens.


The Title


Camus' title, l'Étranger, has been translated poorly, in my opinion. The U.S. title, The Stranger, implies the main character, Meursault, has been viewed as a "strange" or "odd" person for some time. The other possible meaning is that no one knows him; Mersault is a stranger even to those who think they know him. These definitions do not seem adequate. The U.K. title, The Outsider, only serves to confuse readers more.

Meursault is the archetype of a middle-class man. He works as a clerk, rents an apartment, and draws no attention to himself. He is, if anything, ordinary. Meursault might even be boring. He lacks deep convictions and passion. If he is estranged from any aspect of French society, it is religion -- he does not believe in the symbols and rituals of faith.

Is the main character estranged? "Cela m'est égal." Meursault views life as one might a movie. No matter what occurs, "It's all the same to me." He is not a stranger, but rather an observer without an emotional connection to the world.

Along with the title, Camus took care in naming the main character. Meursault's name is symbolic of the Mediterranean. Mer means "sea" and Soliel is French for "sun." The sea and sun meet at the beach, where Meursault's fateful act occurs. 


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