The Stranger and the Myth of Sisyphus? Why That’s Absurd!

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The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus? Why That’s Absurd!
Before the mid-twentieth century, “tragedy” was a special word reserved, as Aristotle wrote, only for those in power. Modernist literature (spearheaded by Arthur Miller’s Tragedy and the Common Man), however, muddied the waters — depicting many different types of people as tragic heroes. Among the first of these so-called commoner tragic heroes was Albert Camus’ Meursault. Like the classically tragic Sisyphus in ancient Greek mythology, Meursault goes through a crisis, is punished in an absurd manner (he is sentenced to death not for killing a man, but for being insufficiently gloomy after his mother’s death) and yet eventually accepts his fate.

The Myth of Sisyphus, a philosophical essay written in 1942 by Albert Camus describes the absurd and existentialist elements of the classic Greek legend. In the myth, Sisyphus is punished by the Gods; he is condemned to roll a rock up a hill (until the weight overwhelms him and the rock rolls back down the hill) for all of eternity. Within his 120-page essay, Camus compares Sisyphus’ amaranthine task to the jobs many modern men and women have in factories and offices. “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd,” Camus writes. “But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious” (Camus 77). This interesting view of Camus has been duplicated time and again by other writers, and with good reason. He accurately pinpoints the absurdity of the repetitive modern life and elaborates further on the concept of absurdity in existentialism (in the quoted essay as well as numerous other works).

Indeed, Camus believes Sisyphus is absurd (and tragic) because of his apparent indifference — his acknowledgement of the futility of his task and the acceptance of his fate. Camus ponders over what Sisyphus must be thinking on his way down the hill (for the billionth or so time), and concludes...
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