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The achievement of happiness is a recurrent theme in the works of Albert Camus. The philosopher emphasized its importance from the perspective of the search for meaning and the necessity to refuse from it to become truly happy (Daniel). In other words, inevitability is synonymous with happiness, and it is added to the idea of absurdity of life (Daniel). In this case, the most prominent examples of novels presenting Camus’ views on the subject are “The Myth of Sisyphus” and “The Stranger,” and their main characters have a row of similarities in the way they are trying to find their paths. Therefore, the achievement of happiness by Meursault and Sisyphus implies the struggle, the loss of hope, and the subsequent acceptance of meaningless of life, and they pass through these stages in the specified order.
The Struggle on the Way to Happiness
The first character, Meursault, is a person who has little interest in his surroundings. Moreover, he is annoyed by the people he meets on his way, such as the talkative caretaker in the facility where his mother died (Camus, “The Stranger” 7). The first step to happiness, which is struggle, for him, is reflected in the failed attempts to understand others and socialize with people. It is explicitly seen not only in the occasional conversations as in the example above at his mother’s funeral but also in relationships. Thus, for instance, his girlfriend, Marie, is the initiator of their communication from the very beginning when she asks if Meursault wanted to marry her (Camus, “The Stranger” 41). Hence, his struggle is reflected by an apathetic attitude towards life due to inability to enjoy it.
The second character, Sisyphus, in contrast to Meursault, experiences a struggle of a physical nature which has similar effects on him. In this way, Camus uses this Greek myth to underpin his theory regarding the need for a struggle on the way to happiness. From his point of view, the story of Sisyphus, who was punished by Gods and had to spend an eternity rolling a huge rock up the mountain, is another proof of it (Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” 107). In the narrative, he is an absurd hero who does not try to escape his fate. However, he does not attempt to change anything in his situation, either, and this fact adds to his resemblance to Meursault.
The Loss of Hope
The next step on the way to happiness is the loss of hope, and the experience of Meursault is the evidence of it. In continuation of the narrative, he befriends his neighbor, Raymond, known for his violent temper and occasionally beating his mistress (Camus, “The Stranger” 36). Meursault does not seem to care about him more than he cares about Marie. Nevertheless, their friendship was strengthened over the time they spent together. Consequently, it led to a turning point in the story, when Meursault shot the brother of Raymond’s mistress without any apparent reason for it (Camus, “The Stranger” 59). It indicated not only the end of the character’s peaceful life but also the end of the attempts to find his place in the world, and, therefore, the hope for it.
In contrast to him, the loss of hope for Sisyphus happened when he was exhausted by his useless labor. This man’s story was defined more by the circumstances which he could not avoid rather than the overall apathy as in the case of Meursault. In his situation, the chances for success were near zero, and he could not find a source of hope in his life due to the lack of goals. In fact, his punishment was defined by the idea of Gods to put him in such hopeless conditions (Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” 107). In this way, their design eventually led to the expected outcome and deprived the hero of further motivation.
The Acceptance of Meaningless of Life
The final stage on the way to happiness is acceptance, and for Meursault, it happened when he was arrested and thrown into jail. The man demonstrated a lack of remorse for his crime as he showed no grief for his mother in the past (Camus, “The Stranger” 65). In this way, he started to accept life the way it was without questioning its twists and turns. However, it did not happen at once, but only when this absurd hero realized the inevitability of his execution (Camus, “The Stranger” 97). After the trials, the feeling of happiness flooded him on the way back to jail when he realized how much he loved the town and the summer night.
The happiness in the case of Sisyphus also was achieved through acceptance. He eventually understood that his absurd struggle was the only life he had and, therefore, it should be seen in a more positive light (Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” 109). This perception came to him after a short period when he managed to escape from the underworld for an hour and compare his feelings while being in these two places (Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” 108). Nevertheless, as opposed to Meursault, Sisyphus found his happiness in the acceptance of not events but their consequences. In other words, happiness to him was synonymous with the acquired strength in the process of his work.
The Comparison of Happiness for Meursault and Sisyphus
The path to happiness for the characters had both similarities and differences. In the first stage, which was the continuous struggle, Meursault and Sisyphus put their efforts into the attempts to understand the meaning of life. However, the former’s difficulties in this situation were theoretical, whereas the latter experienced their physical manifestation (Camus, “The Stranger” 7; Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” 107). They were followed by the loss of hope when Meursault shot the man and Sisyphus tried to escape. The ultimate achievement of happiness for both of them happened when Meursault accepted his fate and Sisyphus started to value his acquired strength. The difference between their outcomes was in the perception of happiness, which for the former was the end of the inner fight, and for the latter, it was the change in attitude.
To summarize, the characters of Camus’ novels provide a perspective on the perception of happiness in the world which has no particular meaning for them. In this way, the philosopher demonstrated his personal views on the subject. He saw the necessity for one’s passing through certain stages which define what can make the person happy, and they usually led to similar results. Thus, the struggle, both physical and mental, the loss of hope, and the consequent acceptance of circumstances is the path which Meursault and Sisyphus took. In the end, each of them achieved happiness, and for the former, it was the acceptance of his fate, whereas, for the latter, it was the realization of his strength. Meanwhile, they both admitted the meaningless nature of life as it corresponded to the central idea of Camus.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin Books, 1979.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Random House, Inc., 1989.
Daniel, Thomas Dylan. “Albert Camus on Happiness.” Medium, 2020.