Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

In his stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevski’s novel, Albert Camus came close to reconciling existentialism with Christianity. From the materials of Russian nihilism he fashioned a drama whose characters face the existential quandary of how to carry on in a world where old beliefs have died and traditional values seem meaningless. Absurdities abound in such a world: Nobles lack nobility, believers have doubts, revolutionaries despise the people, intellectuals go mad, love turns perverse, justice is defeated, and violence subverts order. The realization of such absurdity may move an existential hero to the kind of despair that leads intellectually to nihilism and physically to suicide. The fundamental question of existential ethics is, indeed, whether suicide is proper, if life is meaningless.

The theme of suicide runs through the whole play. The young girl whom Stavrogin befriended in St. Petersburg, after being unjustly punished and perversely loved, takes her own life. Kirilov discusses suicide with several characters. His willingness to attach a false meaning to his own long-contemplated suicide shows how overwhelming and nauseating a consciousness of absurdity can be for a sensitive thinker. The play reaches its climax in Stavrogin’s suicide by hanging.

Stavrogin is a contemporary hero inasmuch as his spiritual deterioration symbolizes the course of modern civilization. Of noble birth, the son of a czarist general, Stavrogin is blessed...

(The entire section is 519 words.)