Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

The Rebel takes its place among Western nonfiction classics. It belongs among the important works of the immediate post-World War II period that signaled a retreat from extremism and pointed the way toward moderation and democracy. These great works include George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951).

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The Rebel was well received in the English-speaking world as a brilliant work that dissected the dangers of ideological tyranny, affirmed the rights of the individual, and pointed the way to life and hope for Western civilization. Some critics found fault with Camus’ loose generalizations, oversimplifications, and lack of a firm logical structure. Yet on the whole, The Rebel was hailed as the most eloquent of the affirmations of postwar reconstructive humanism.

The major controversies over the book erupted in France. Camus had addressed his book mainly to postwar French intellectuals, who were still characterized by ideological extremes and who were by no means well-disposed to Camus’ brand of liberalism. Liberals and progressive Catholics welcomed Camus’ individualism and democratic anti-Communism; Communists and their sympathizers, as well as the Surrealists, predictably attacked the work.

The publication of The Rebel resulted in the final break between the two existentialist giants of French philosophy and letters, Camus and Sartre. Sartre accused Camus of abandoning his former activist outlook and ignoring the realities of political action. Camus replied that Sartre was bowing to expediency by defending servitude (in the Soviet Union) in the guise of humanitarianism.

It is clear that as existentialists Sartre...

(The entire section contains 404 words.)

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