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Le dualisme chez Albert Camus : le bonheur et l'absurde Olson, Jane Carol


Dualism characterizes the work of Albert Camus. The young Mediterranean, who was fortunate enough to have a sense of communion with the glorious nature of his native Algeria, also suffered from one of its inherent maladies--poverty. He noticed also that his companions had no religious feelings; they burned themselves out in a great burst of joyous physical existence on the beaches rather than preoccupy themselves with thoughts of life after death. They, and Camus in his turn, put all the emphasis on the life here and now because they felt that the after-life was merely a hypothesis. Thus, at a very young age, Albert Camus became aware of the event which would give life a new, intensified meaning; he saw death as the inevitable end of this life which he loved. The dualism exists, therefore, between this attempt to find happiness and the realization that this attempt is doomed from the beginning by an indifferent and incoherent world which can at any moment snuff out life. This latter reasoning is that of the Absurd. From this dualism is born a new position—revolt. Camus revolts against everything that depreciates the value of life, whether bourgeois conformism and complacency or communist terror and torture. This negative revolt is always balanced by an emphasis on the positive elements of life--happiness, love, fraternity, beauty. There are, therefore, three main themes in the work of Albert Camus--happiness, the Absurd, revolt. They coexist throughout the entire length of his writings. Together they evolve and mature. The theme of happiness begins by the attempt to find a personal, physical happiness. Examples are Noces, L'Etranger, and many of the female characters of Camus. The second type of happiness is found in La Peste, L'Homme révolté, and one story from L'Exil et le Royaume. It is the desire for the collective happiness of a group. Thirdly, there is a transcendant happiness whose object is some abstract concept. Jean Tarrou of La Peste and the heroes of Les Justes are the major examples. Finally, there is a group of characters whose attempts at happiness fail because they reject human warmth in favour of their ideals. They are Caligula, Martha and Jan of Le Malentendu, Clamence of La Chute, and the Renegade of L'Exil et le Royaume. In any case, true happiness must be tempered by the realization that men must die. The importance of this lucidity runs as a subtheme under that of happiness. The Absurd, too, evolves. Its earliest literary manifestations are characterized by the emphasis on natural causes of death and misunderstanding— the plague, the will of the gods, destiny. It is, therefore, called a metaphysical absurd and examples are taken from Le Malentendu and Le Mythe de Sisyphe. A second form of the Absurd is caused by men themselves, their wars, and ideological cold wars. This is a social absurdity discussed in La Peste, L'Homme révolté, L'Etat de Siège, L'Eté, La Chute, Discours de Suède, and Les Justes. A derivative of this type of the Absurd is the absurdity of the robotlike life led by modern man. L'Etranger is the most striking example, but Le Mythe de Sisyphe and a story from L'Exil et le Royaume continue this theme. Revolt has two stages which correspond with those of the Absurd. The first feeling of revolt is a metaphysical rebellion against God, the world, or destiny which force men to die. Its examples are Noces, L'Etranger, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Caligula, Le Malentendu, and several characters from La Peste. The second rebellion is social in that it reacts against totalitarianism, murder, and falsehood. It is found in the person of Jean Tarrou in La Peste, L’Homme révolté, L'Etat de Siège, Les Justes, La Chute, and L'Eté. One of the most important characteristics of revolt is moderation. Man has the right to revolt against his oppressor, but not to legitimize murder to gain his end. If this tactic should be necessary, he must sacrifice his own life in order to absolve himself of his crime. Finally, Camus' thought is characterized by a sort of humanism because of his incessant emphasis on the value of human life. La Chute, as an ironic work, is the example. In it Camas criticizes Christians, Communists, and existentialists alike for their lack of moderation and their lack of faith in man. Camus' position during the Algerian revolt also proves his concern for moderation. The result of this moderate revolt will hopefully be happiness. It is on this note that the cycle of Camus' work is completed.

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