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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Man's relationship with nature in the works of Albert Camus. Button, Margaret Jean

Abstract

This thesis is an attempt to trace the age-old theme of man's relationship with the physical universe in the works of one writer: Albert Camus. In his early works, Camus was preoccupied with this theme. From 1941 on, however, he increasingly neglected it in favour of social, political and philosophical topics. Perhaps, this is why any criticism of his works tends to centre on the man-nature theme in his writings before 1941, and then to completely drop this subject and dwell on the social, political and philosophical aspects of his later works. The man-nature theme, however, is present throughout Camus' works; in only a few is it neglected completely. Moreover, it was found that Camus' treatment of the theme formed a pattern of four chronological periods. During the first years of his literary career until 1941, Camus dwells on man's deep sensitivity to nature and the sense of "oneness" he feels with the physical universe. L'Envers et l'endroit and Noces were Camus' first youthful and ingenuous efforts to express his sense of communion with nature and the beliefs he finds as a result of this communion. In L'Etranger, Camus' first published work of fiction, man is no longer free in his association with nature, but controlled by it. "Le Minotaure", a description of Oran and its inhabitants, suggests that man has a choice of life close to nature and happiness or a life away from nature which brings sterility and boredom. In 1941 comes a distinct and decisive change in Camus' attitude to the man-nature theme. The essay "Les Amandiers" announces this change; in it nature is reduced to a mere symbol of "the good"; man is no longer portrayed enjoying the beauties of nature. Indeed, the works of this second period — the longest and richest in literary output — depict man in exile from the nature he adores; exiled because of the "absurd" as in Caligula; because of circumstances of birth and lack of money as in Le Malentendu and because of plague (or war) as in La Peste. Yet, in all these works, nature is present as a memory or a desire. "L'Exil d'Hélène" closes this period with a bitter criticism by the author of a world that has forsaken nature and its joys. For a brief interval in 1952-1953, Camus' writings reflect a deep desire to recapture his youthful experience of nature in Algeria and Italy. During this period, he describes his renewed relationship with nature in the essays: "Retour à Tipasa" and "La Mer au plus près". Neither essay, however, contains the freshness and enthusiasm of the first period. After 1953, Camus' characters lose themselves once again in a world that is out of touch with nature. La Chute describes the exile of all men and La Femme adultère, the communion of man with nature, but with a nature that is sterile and death-like.

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