At a Glance
Only in an Albert Camus work would someone shoot and kill another person because the sun is too bright. That action is one of the central plot points of his most famous book, The Stranger. The cryptic, elliptically written text has spurred a variety of interpretations by scholars—a fitting response because the author himself was so difficult to define. Albert Camus, like Samuel Beckett, is often associated with existentialism and the absurd, but his rise to prominence mirrored that of deeply political writers like Federico García Lorca. What made Camus’s brand of existential and absurdist commentary unique, however, was its connection to anti-totalitarian sentiments. Throughout his prolific career (which was cut short by his death in a car accident), Camus remained as committed to political change as he was to writing.
Facts and Trivia
- Camus is nearly always associated with existentialism, yet he rejected the label in attempt to differentiate himself from the philosopher and writer Jean Paul Sartre.
- Despite being both a pacifist and a communist, Camus served in the French Resistance during World War II.
- Camus was a pied-noir (“black foot”), a term for a person of European descent living in Algeria. The uneasy French-Algerian relations greatly affected both Camus’s politics and his novel The Stranger.
- Camus’s A Happy Death features a character with the same name, Meursault, as the protagonist of The Stranger. Scholars continue to wonder whether or not the two characters and stories are connected.
- Camus’s most famous novel, called L’Étranger in French, is usually translated into English as The Stranger; however, in the rest of the world it is more commonly called The Foreigner or The Outsider. The ambiguity of the original title has caused endless debate as to whether it refers to the disaffected title character or the Arab man he kills.
Article abstract: Camus’s philosophical and literary writings established his reputation as the moral conscience of France during the 1940’s and 1950’s. With understated eloquence, he reaffirmed the intrinsic values of individual freedom and dignity in the face of such evils as Nazism, Stalinism, and colonial exploitation.
Albert Camus had a very difficult childhood. When he was born on November 7, 1913, his parents Lucien and Catherine were living in the small Algerian city of Mondovi, where his father worked for a vineyard. His parents were very poor. The very next year, Lucien was drafted, and he died in October, 1914, as a result of wounds received during the Battle of the Marne. His widow Catherine, already partially deaf, suffered a stroke soon after Lucien’s death, and this stroke permanently affected her speech. She moved to Algiers with her two sons, Albert and Lucien. They lived with her domineering mother, Catherine Sintes, in the working-class neighborhood of Belcourt. The harsh conditions of Camus’s youth taught him to value independence, personal responsibility, and human dignity.
Camus did very well in grammar school and earned a scholarship to the prestigious Grand Lycée of Algiers, where he developed a profound interest in philosophy and literature under the guidance of his teacher, Jean Grenier, to whom he would later dedicate both a volume of essays, L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; The Wrong Side and the Right Side, 1968), and a philosophical essay, L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel, 1956). At the age of seventeen, however, he became gravely ill with tuberculosis, from which his lungs never fully recovered. Camus did, however, resume his studies, and in 1936 he defended his master’s thesis on the problem of evil in the writings of Plotinus and Saint Augustine. Although his mother was Catholic, Camus was an agnostic. His medical problems prevented him from being offered a teaching position in Algeria.
Between 1935 and his move to France in 1942, he worked as a journalist in Algiers. He also became involved with...
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