The First Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In contrast to his novels of existential despair, like THE STRANGER (1942) and THE PLAGUE (1947), Camus’ last book affirms the value, even virtue, of the human condition. The author’s notes interspersed throughout this edition leave no doubt as to the story’s autobiographical basis, but Camus names his alter ego Jacques Cormery. After opening with a near-cinematic setting of Jacques’s birth, Camus parallels “then” (Algeria from 1913 to 1928) with “now” (France in the 1950’s). The forty- year old Jacques, who has lived in France for half his life, visits the grave of his father who fell at the Battle of the Marne in 1914, barely a year after his son’s birth. He now returns to Algeria to “find” his father.

Time, however, has obliterated nearly all trace of the man, even for Jacques’s mother, Catherine, hard of hearing and morbidly shy. Instead of his father, Jacques finds himself and relives a childhood dominated by his no-nonsense grandmother. Though remarking often on the gulf between Jacques and his past, Camus bridges that gap, bringing the young Jacques and his impoverished working class family to life. For most of the book, the reader follows the boy through days filled with the joys that even the poor can afford: swimming, hunting, soccer, friendship, and books. There are terrors, too, but they do not penetrate far into the security provided by his family. Sadly, by helping him pursue the education they lack, they create the...

(The entire section is 455 words.)