Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

In The Rebel, Albert Camus is concerned with the most fundamental issues that humankind must confront: the nature of our existence and moral and ethical bases of action. Camus contributes substantially to existentialist and absurdist perspectives that gained prominence during and after World War II. A specific theme that he addresses within his general concerns is the individual’s responsibility to act when surrounded by a violent and coercive environment. Camus addresses the choices people made in specific recent situations, such as in Nazi Germany or when confronted with Nazi aggression, as in France when Germany invaded. He also looks at coercive state systems such as colonialism, in part based on his North African experience, and the expanding Soviet bloc. The title refers to this theme of individual responsibility and action. Camus addresses the theme of rational action, inquiring into the difference between sanity and insanity. At the deepest level, Camus reminds us, each person must make their own decision about life itself: Does it make sense to go on living? Or is suicide a—or even the—logical choice?

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One point that the author makes is the human tendency toward futile self-searching. Camus argues that the endless quest to find meaning in life is absurd; continuing to search when no satisfactory answers have been found constitutes evidence of human folly. Rebelling against oppression is vital, he claims, in the face of the meaningless—precisely because no meaning exists. Acknowledging our responsibility to others and acting out of empathy and in solidarity with our fellow humans is what matters, instead of selfishly pondering one’s interior state. Furthermore, to believe that any single organized political system provides an ideal system is misguided. Camus wrote against the atrocities of the past as he reviewed historical cases. He also looked at the encroachment of Soviet influence under Stalin during the period when he wrote and anticipated a worsening future.

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Characters