Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria to a French Algerian settler family on November 7, 1913. He had ancestors from both France on his father’s side and Spain on his mother’s side. He took pride in his ancestry as we later see that he becomes a member of the French Communist party and works for underground papers trying to fight invaders. Albert’s father died in a battle of World War 1 in 1914 before Albert had turned one. This forced his mother, Catherine, and his older brother, Lucien, to move into their aunt’s house in Algiers suburb of Belcourt in the working-class area, crowded with apartment buildings and factories. Despite all of this Camus attended school and received a good education and eventually received a scholarship to Lycee. Then in 1930 he is struck with his first bout of tuberculosis. The disease never killed him but stayed with him his whole life and gave him several major attacks throughout his life. Three years later he pursued interest in attending the university of Algiers and pursued getting a degree in philosophy. This was the start of his obsession on the philosophy of the absurd that would soon be the main focus of his writings and would eventually evolve into a much more refined philosophy.
Being that he was struck at the age of seventeen by tuberculosis he confronted death early which lead him to believe in the philosophy of the absurd. The absurd results from the conflict between our awareness of death and our desire of life, from the opposition between our search for explanation and the mystery of all existence. Man realizes death is inevitable and finally realizes there is no meaning in life. Yet, Camus never supported suicide, for though life has no meaning, the aim of experiencing as many physical sensations as one can makes life worth living. The novel The Stranger is a prefect example of how he thought and believed in this. The main character in The Stranger, Meursault, believes that life is pointless, he denounces hope, and he refuses to believe in any sort of transcendence. His life is occupied by a physical pleasure that takes precedence over everything else, for because there is nothing else, man must occupy himself with the sensation of being alive. Meeting girls, baking in the hot Mediterranean sun, and swimming are the reasons that man finds to live. Man lives in the present and loves his material world. We see how he sees the world is absurd when things like marriage and death of his mother has no affect on him. Again we see at the end of the novel when he kills the Arab at the beach that he has no basis for his actions and just does it because the sun is bothering him, he feels weird and he has the gun so it’s the easy thing to do. The character in this novel is the opposite of what any other of a story would build a character to be he only enjoys the physical parts of life and seems not to be able to see significance in things like his mother’s death of his girlfriends want for marriage. Not until the end of the book does he really and truly see how his mother felt on the brink of death and how everyone feels when staring death in the face. Meursault says
“And now, it seemed to me, I understood why at her life’s end she had taken on a “fiancï¿½”; why she’d played at making a fresh start. There, too, in that Home where lives were flickering out, the dusk came as a mournful solace. With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one, no one in the world had any right to weep for her. And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again.”
Through his quote we can see how the absurd man feels when he has reached the brink of death. When the absurd man is finally confronted with death how he feels he has been given another chance at life and has gained a certain amount of freedom and fresh start. This is Camus’ original and early philosophy in that man must strive for physical pleasure to be able to accomplish something and that man is always haunted by death and the thought of it until the very end when he is finally released from the grasp of the idea of death. We also see throughout this novel that the absurd man even thought he believes the world is absurd acts in a very different way from the rest of us. He takes everything very lightly and even the fact that he is going to be executed does not seem to make that much of difference to him because he realizes that he was going to die and some point and it really did not matter to him when because life has no meaning once you realize the death is inevitable and that man must struggle to find meaning.
In his next major work The Rebel we see his philosophy change from that of striving for the physical and instead trying to revolt and be different from everyone else. It was a change from the absurd man to a man in revolt. This man still believes that the world is absurd but he strives for individual personalized revolt instead of the physical things like before. It is all about man trying to transform himself instead of being who he already is. In the essay Camus discusses many types of rebellion such as metaphysical and historical. The main focus of this essay was the strong critique of soviet communism which later ended his relationship with long time friend, Sartre who was a strong believer in the soviet communism way. In the essay the question “What is a rebel?” is answered by “It is a man who says no” very plainly. This evolution of his thinking shows us how he continued to change his views and grow as a writer. It shows that it started to become a major theme in all his writings and continued to evolve and develop as did Camus as more than just a writer.
His most creative work according to modern critics is his novel The Fall he used this novel to use a new form of writing that he cam up with. In The Fall, Camus utilized the monologue in order to express the universal egotism of all men. The whole creativity of this work lays in the foundation for the technique which was completely new for the time. Camus was mostly interested in how he expressed his ideas through new techniques. It is in his innovation of form in The Fall where his creativity lie critics say. As Camus defined the truly creative writer, he is who “doubtless always says the same thing, but unceasingly renews the form in which he says it”. In that quote you can see how he has finally mature and developed into the master writer. He finally moved on from just changing his ideals each time but to using new and innovative ways of expressing this ideals in his novels.
In most of his novels we see reoccurring details and events. In almost every work the main character is either an absurd man or world that the book deals with. In The Stranger we deal with Meursault and his odd behaviors and events that lead to his sentence to execution. This was of course achieved because he was the absurd man and the rest of the world could not see why he did the things he did. In The Plague we are put into an absurd world where plague has come to a small town in Algiers and how the small town must cope with this life changing event. Other than the absurd we see other similarities in these works which include the reference and use of Algiers as well as the mother playing a major side role in the plot. In The Stranger the mother’s death is the first major event of the plot and ends up coming up as a major detail later on during the trial. In The Plague Rieux has his mother living with him the entire time and is there for emotional support in his fight against the plague. Through these detail we get to see how Camus liked to use his own life in his works and not make everything fictional. We know that Camus had a strong relationship with his mother because his father died at age one. Also since he spent much of his life dealing with the politics in Algiers and living there he brings those details into his stories as well. We get to see what was truly important to him in life and how he evolved as a writer and incorporated those things into his writing as time went on as well.
Even after writing all of these works he never felt that he was meant to be a writer. He has been quoted as saying that he thought of himself as a man of the theatre not an author. We see how he expresses this when he takes a break from writing between 1951 and 1956 and focused mainly of doing translations and writing plays. He was even responsible for building a theatre which lasted for two years before it was demolished. Regardless of this he is still known as a great author and one of the youngest to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 just after releasing his book The Fall. Many critics believe that the novel The Fall was a creative revival for him and may have led to his win of the Nobel Prize. Many critics even including himself at the time believed he was not worthy of winning that award and that is should have gone to Andrï¿½ Malraux. He was 44 when he received the reward and felt great pressure to and wondered if he were able to ever write another great novel.
We can see how his belief that the world is absurd, that we are born by chance, live by encounter and die by accident affected his life. It almost seemed that he thought he had no control and that whatever was meant to happen to him was going to and there was nothing he could really do to stop it. Also the fact that he was killed in a car accident in 1960 at the age of 47 helps to exemplify this because he had commented earlier in life to close friends and family that death by car accident is a most absurd death. Yet in his short life, Camus made exceptional contributions to his field. His writings focused on many unsual topics which he made his own through his writing. His fascination on things such as separation, loneliness, compassion, rebellion and joy in the physical life. His books allowed people to find new ways to live their lives and new philosophies to abide by. Camus is often referred to as a major writer of his time as well as being a forerunner on the thought of the absurd in the twentieth century. He is also referred to in the same sentence as other great authors such as Kafka and Fyodor Dostoevsky. These three authors were leaders of their time and peeled away from the rationalism that was trying to be instilled into the public at the time and were able to break away and come up with their own thoughts. Camus made a significant contribution to our understanding of the absurd and always rejected nihilism as a valid response.