Read the poem by Stephen Crane:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“That fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.”
From the Center for Learning
Camus’ name is often linked with the philosophy of existentialism, and Camus himself was a student of philosophy. Yet he stated bluntly on a number of occasions that he was not to be considered an existentialist, at least in the way that most people define the term. His name is also frequently linked with that of Jean-Paul Sartre. Here again, although they remained on friendly terms, they did not hold identical beliefs. Sartre’s philosophy tended toward the rational, logical form of explanations: Camus’ did not.
One word that does go intimately with Camus’ beliefs, however, is “absurd.” He does not mean “funny” or “amusing” when he uses the word; nether do his biographers or explicators of his philosophy. Rather, “absurd” is used to mean “Difficult to know,” perhaps tending “pointless” or “having no definite answer.” Camus believed that people have a longing or an impulse toward immortality, yet all they really know is that existence comes to an end; life is finite. Camus also believed that human beings can choose – in the face of the unknown, with no surety of anything beyond the present—to sacrifice themselves for others.
Because much of what people face is impenetrable, answers can not be certain; everyone confronts an absurd situation. How are we to react in the face of what is unknown when we long to know? If life is, for the most part, an unending struggle, what can give us happiness?
Camus explored this problem in his work, even titling one of his works, The Myth of Sisyphus, published the same year as The Stranger (1942, when Camus was in his late twenties). According to myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a stone to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down before it quite reaches the top and a firm resting place. For all eternity, Sisyphus is bound to the task. Camus ventures that perhaps Sisyphus’ “happiness,” or at least satisfaction, can come from the best he possibly can rather than giving up.