Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

First in the series of thematically linked short stories gathered in L’Exil et le royaume (1957; Exile and the Kingdom, 1958), “The Adulterous Woman” adumbrates and announces the prevailing themes of the collection. Janine, “exiled”’ like Marcel among the ethnic French born and reared in Algeria, perceives on both of her visits to the fort a greater “kingdom” of nature and humanity than she has hitherto even suspected. The innumerable Arabs, predominantly male, and the rockbound, evidently hostile land that they inhabit provoke in the sheltered Janine a sudden awareness of human possibility, of unnoticed opportunity, occasioning a “moment of truth.”

Despite his repeated rejections of the “existentialist” label, followed by repudiations on the part of the existentialists themselves, Albert Camus’s mature work developed from, and significantly contributed to, the postwar intellectual climate most commonly associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and his followers. Faithful in spirit to Camus’s own early essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays, 1955), “The Adulterous Woman,” like most of the tales in Exile and the Kingdom, delineates the contrast between freedom and habit, between “authentic” response and “conditioned” human behavior. Janine’s “moment of truth,” however unique and memorable, demonstrates both the “authenticity” and the...

(The entire section is 503 words.)