In this essay, Camus explores the significance of the mythical figure of Sisyphus, who was punished by the gods for his crimes and sent to the underworld, where he was destined to push a massive rock up a hill for eternity which would constantly roll back to the bottom of the hill, and then he would have to start again. What is fascinating about this essay, however, is the way that Camus explores the "hour of consciousness" of Sisyphus, which he defines as the time Sisyphus is able to walk down the hill after the rock has fallen and before he begins pushing it again:
It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
The hour of consciousness is such an important concept for Camus because it gives him hope of being able to surmount the problems of being human in an existentialist universe which is either profoundly indifferent or extremely hostile to the suffering of man. The "hour of consciousness" is therefore something to try to attain as a coping strategy so that humans can be "superior" to their fate as we toil away at meaningless tasks we are destined to work on for our entire lives.