Camus gave the world a new kind of hero when The Stranger and the accompanying essay collection The Myth of Sisyphus burst upon the literary scene in 1942. They were published in the dark days of World War II: France had surrendered to Hitler, the British were under siege, the Americans were still recovering from Pearl Harbor, and the Russians were on the defensive. With such a background, the work and philosophy of Albert Camus were appropriate responses to the tension of resisting the Germans. The individual’s resistance was the very definition of freedom. Camus believed, and many agreed with him, that the world was meaningless, absurd, and indifferent. However, he also wrote that in the face of this indifference the individual must rebel against the absurdity felt by the mind and uphold traditional human values.
The Stranger was an immediate success and established Camus, incorrectly, as a major representative of the existentialist movement. The novel tells the story of Meursault, who kills an Arab in a reaction to the environment—the heat and glare of the sun. In the ensuing investigation, the law prosecutes Meursault for his failure to show proper feelings for his deceased mother, rather than for the crime of murder. Aghast at his apparent lack of love, they execute him. The novel, as well as the collection of essays, developed the concept of the absurd and the belief that a person can be happy in the face of the “absurd.”