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UBC Theses and Dissertations

L'injustice sociale dans le theatre d'Albert Camus Langridge, Gertrude Anne


The aim of this study is to examine the ideas of Albert Camus on social injustice as he sets them forth in his four Plays, Caligula, Le Malentendu, L'État de Siège and Les Justes. The term "social injustice" we have interpreted in its widest sense, as applying to every aspect of human relations. We have made the analysis under two main headings, the injustice that confronts man, and the reaction of man in the face of this injustice, considering each side of the problem on three levels, political, psychological and metaphysical. The awareness of injustice came early to Camus in his own youthful experience. His desire and search for justice is evident then in his earliest writings, inspired by a revolt against the absurdity of man's fate. At the same time, however, he reveals a sensitivity to the beauty of the world and a joy in being alive, that influence his thought and attitudes at all times. One constant source of happiness and satisfaction for Camus was the theatre which, from his school days until his death, he enjoyed as actor, producer and dramatic writer of many adaptations as well as the four original plays. As the theme of injustice leads inevitably to conflict, it is natural that Camus should have chosen the theatre in which to work out his ideas and involve the spectator in the reactions of his characters on the stage. In the first section, the injustice that confronts man, Chapter one deals with the political level. We focus our attention on the political injustice that oppresses the people ruled with absolute power by a ruthless emperor in Caligula, by a totalitarian regime in L 'État de Siège and by the tyranny of the Russian Czars in Les Justes. In this last play we note too the dangers of tyranny in an authoritarian political group organized to combat by violent means the despotic government of the country. In the dialogue of the play and the attitudes of the characters we discern the thinking of Camus. In Chapter two we consider at the psychological level the effects of living under these inherently unjust rulers, the injustices of fear, hate, humiliation, despair and so on which afflict the victims. We see this in the same three plays as above. These injustices exist also to oppress the characters of Le Malentendu. Here, however, they result from the hardships of climate, poverty and family inadequacy. In Chapter three we deal with injustice at the metaphysical level, the absurdity of human life dominated by suffering and death. That concept immediately poses the question of the value of life, the happiness, love, beauty and freedom that man craves. These two aspects are evident i n the c o n f l i c t of all four plays. In Part Two, man confronted by injustice, we come to the reaction of the victims of injustice at the three levels, the revolt or acceptance on the part of the characters involved, the destructive or positive approach towards the elimination of social ills. Here we can mark out certain great rebels who aim to destroy evil and on the other hand certain great champions of liberty who work to create justice and happiness. From this we endeavour to indicate Camus' point of view on methods of revolt. In Chapter one of this section, devoted to man's re-actions to injustice, it is again the political level that concerns us. Here the great question is the justification or condemnation of violence, especially as seen in Caligula and Les Justes. Chapter two, the psychological level, leads us to personal feelings and motives, whether hate, fear and humiliation or courage, brotherhood and dignity. In all four plays we note the inner conflict produced by the impact of injustice on the human personality. We observe through his characters the importance Camus places upon love and responsibility to mankind in man's struggle to achieve satisfaction in life. In Chapter three, the metaphysical level, we analyze man's behaviour in the face of the absurdity of his human existence, his revolt, his efforts to overcome the limitations and cruelty of his destiny and to create by his own efforts a tolerable degree of justice and happiness. In Caligula and Le Malentendu we have the negative approach which succombs finally to despair. In L'État de Siège also we have the nihilist Nada. However, both in this play and in Les Justes we find a vindication of man's sense of the value of life to be achieved in liberty and happiness. In conclusion we indicate the evolution of Camus' views from the pessimism of the idea of the absurd to the humanism of seeking to fulfil man's destiny in dignity and beauty. In his condemnation of violence and his assertion of the power of brotherhood to build a world of order, justice and freedom, Camus has much to offer the world of today, menaced by dissension, war and total destruction. We find that his plays continue to attract audiences of concerned people, especially the young generation seeking a path to human dignity and fulfilment.

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