Albert Camus

Albert Camus (1913-1960) is a French-Algerian writer and philosopher. As a thinker and an artist, Camus's works explored the essence of existence and the meaning of life. His most famous novel, The Stranger (1942), follows a man struggling to find meaningful connections with other people. Like his other significant works, the book was influenced by Camus's personal philosophy and approach to living. Albert Camus remains an important figure in world literature and highly influential in both literature and philosophy. 

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Table of contents

    Albert Camus, Picture of the author Albert Camus, StudySmarterCamus is often noted for his handsome appearance and suave demeanor. Pixabay

    Albert Camus: Biography

    Born into poverty in the French colony of Algeria, Albert Camus lived during an exciting and volatile time.

    Early Life and Education

    Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, French Algeria. He was a member of the Pied Noir, a social group of people descended from poor French immigrants who arrived in Algeria in the late 19th century.

    Camus's father, a soldier in the French army, died in World War I, leaving his mother to raise the children. Camus' mother was deaf and worked as a cleaner, struggling to raise the family in a cramped three-room apartment. At school, Camus proved himself a strong student; with the help of a teacher, he gained a scholarship to an esteemed high school in 1923.

    During high school, he developed an interest in boxing and was the goalie for the school soccer team. After contracting tuberculosis in 1930, Camus was forced to give up all strenuous physical activity and instead focused on his studies.

    Admitted to the University of Algiers in 1933, Camus studied philosophy and was exposed to formative Greek thinkers and texts during his undergraduate degree. His thesis focused on connections between Greek philosophers and early Christian thinkers. This period also saw Camus' political ideology evolve as he joined the Communist party. He also joined the Algerian People's Party and spoke out against France's colonization of Algeria.

    One of Camus' earliest memories is having to read the movie posters at the theatre aloud to his family, who were entirely illiterate.

    Politics and Journalism

    Camus made early attempts at writing, with several articles published in a left-wing newspaper. A spell of tuberculosis saw Camus sent to recuperate in the French Alps. Upon his return, he became a journalist for a left-wing publication and formed a political theatre group that staged works to increase working-class consciousness. An essay collection, The Wrong Side and the Right Side, was published in 1937.

    As a journalist, he published several reviews of Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-1980) early works. The famed French intellectual would later become Camus's close friend. Camus also wrote pieces that called attention to the unjust colonial system's discrimination against Arabs in Algeria. His vocal stance on Arab rights led to his expulsion from the Communist party.

    Camus moved to Paris to become editor-in-chief of the newspaper Paris-Soir, shortly before the start of WWII. He was rejected for military service because of his lungs and joined the French resistance. During Nazi Occupation, Camus wrote articles and acted as editor for the banned magazine Combat. He also produced the essay Letters to a German Friend (1944) during this period, which asserted the need to resist and fight against authoritarian regimes.

    How did Camus' experience during WWII influence his later beliefs and writings?

    Novels and Success

    In 1942 Camus published his first novel, The Stranger. He followed this novel with the 1943 essay "Le Mythe de Sisyphe" ("The Myth of Sisyphus"), arguing against suicide from an absurdist standpoint. Both of these influential works helped to establish Camus as an essential voice in both literature and philosophy.

    In the postwar literary scene in Paris, Camus was a contemporary of influential thinkers like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). He found himself among a growing group of artists and intellectuals questioning the social institutions which had led to the bloodshed of WWII. Camus's fame also grew on the international scene during this period. He embarked on a speaking tour of America in 1945, where he spoke about the struggle of humanity and each individual's quest to find meaning in life.

    Albert Camus, Picture of Jean-Paul Sartre, StudySmarterCamus became close friends with the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre but later fell out with him about politics. Wikicommons

    His next novel, The Plague (1947), details the experience of a small coastal French-Algerian city that suffers an outbreak of bubonic plague. As the town struggles to control the disease, the population's sense of community and civility is strained to the breaking point. The work was Camus's challenge against nihilism and promoted the idea of hope against immense odds.

    Is Albert Camus' opinion on the meaninglessness of life inherently pessimistic, or does it contain some positive aspects?

    In 1951 he published "The Rebel," an essay that argued the need for revolution and rebellion to progress society. The essay sought to critique political ideologies which created totalitarian governments and promoted the importance of the individual. Camus was critical of communism and the western intellectuals who embraced it, which led to a falling out with Sartre.

    Throughout the 1950s, Camus found himself distanced from other French writers and philosophers. Tired of the narrow-minded Paris intellectual scene, Camus angered thinkers on both the French left and right with his views on the Algerian independence movement.

    Albert Camus was born and raised in French Algeria. Also known as Colonial Algeria, the French colonized the North African country from 1830 to 1962. The French settlers comprised one-tenth of the population but maintained power over the Arab and indigenous majority.

    While Camus' French identity is important, so too are his Algerian roots. His most famous novels, The Stranger and The Plague, are based in French Algeria, but Camus still has a problematic legacy in his homeland.

    Albert Camus, France Algeria colored on a map, StudySmarterCamus's identity was influenced by his French heritage and experience of growing up in Algeria. Wikicommons

    Early in his career, Camus spoke out against colonialism and called for Arab rights. He wrote a series of articles exposing the impact of a drought on the heavily Arabic population of the Kabylia region. In The Stranger, he subtly explores some of the colonial tensions. Yet Camus felt torn during the Algerian War of Independence.

    While he was disgusted by the French military's repression, he also hesitated to condone the violence of the revolution. He could not bring himself to support full independence and argued for a confederation where France would retain close relations with its former colonies.

    Camus sought to explain his stance on the issue in his 1958 essay collection The Algerian Chronicles, but the work was virtually ignored in France. Both French intellectuals on the left and conservatives on the right rejected Camus' middle ground.

    In 2013, the centenary of Camus' birth, celebrations, and events occurred across France to commemorate his life and works, while the event went unmarked in his native Algeria.

    Later Life and Death

    In 1957, Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He initially planned to refuse the award, believing other writers to be more worthy of the recognition. However, with the spiraling violence of the Algerian War of Independence, Camus saw this as an opportunity to ease tensions between France and Algeria.

    Albert Camus was the second-youngest writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    With the prize money, Camus moved to a quiet town in the French countryside and continued to work on writings that dealt with themes of love and creation. After celebrating New Year's Eve with friends, Camus was destined to travel home by train with his family. At the last moment, a close friend offered to drive Camus home. The pair were killed when the car struck a tree on January 4, 1960.

    Albert Camus: Philosophy

    Albert Camus tackled moral and ethical questions of life and meaning through his essays, articles, and novels. He is often classified as an existentialist; however, he repeatedly rejected this label.

    The Existentialist model of thinking rejects the idea that life's meaning can be derived from traditional models of belief like religion. Existentialists see meaning as something the individual creates through the exercise of free will and the acceptance of personal responsibility.

    Camus' friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, was one of the leading thinkers of the Existentialist movement. Sartre and other existentialists believe that meaning can only be formed through the individual's unique experience of the world. While Camus also rejected the belief that meaning derives from man-made institutions like the church, he rejected the idea that the individual could form any sense of purpose. Camus' views are more closely aligned with the concept of Absurdism.

    Absurdism grew out of Existentialism as a movement but saw the universe as utterly devoid of meaning. Camus argued that while humans are rational thinkers driven to make order and sense, the quest to do this in a meaningless universe was fundamentally absurd. In the face of this uncaring universe, Camus saw the attempt to create meaning as a form of escapism or a coping mechanism. In his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," he tackled the problem of existence in a meaningless universe. Humans only had a few choices: they could attempt to cope with systems like religion, commit suicide, or embrace the meaninglessness and welcome life's absurd nature.

    Many believed this led to despair and nihilism. Camus argued this meaninglessness was liberating. Freed from expectation and the disappointment of hope, humans could more fully experience life and enjoy experiences.

    Albert Camus: Facts

    Camus lived an exciting life and was constantly on the quest for knowledge. Here are a few interesting facts about the life of Albert Camus.

    • Camus' most famous work, The Stranger, was almost never made. Printed at the height of WWII, his publishers faced severe paper shortages.

    • Camus was an avid sports fan and was the goalkeeper for his university's soccer team. During an interview with the alumni sports magazine, Camus said, "After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport."1

    • As Camus' fame and recognition grew, he became closely associated with the philosophical concept of Absurdism. While talking to people, he stopped using the word "absurd" so people wouldn't think he was making a profound philosophical statement!

    • In 1945, Camus arranged to meet English author and political thinker George Orwell (1903-1950) at a café in Paris. The meeting of two great intellectuals never occurred as Camus was bed-ridden with tuberculosis and unable to attend.

    Albert Camus: Books

    Albert Camus explored important philosophical concepts from his early work as a journalist through his philosophical essays and novel. Here are some of his most important works.

    The Stranger (1942)

    Camus's breakthrough novel is the tale of a young French-Algerian man who feels detached and isolated from the world. Meursault seems to have a good job, a girlfriend who loves, and the chance of a promotion to Paris, yet he can't seem to find the ability to care about anything. As he floats through life, enjoying only sensory experiences, Meursault's isolation culminates in a senseless murder.

    This philosophical novel explores Camus' personal belief in Absurdism. The novel's protagonist rejects all standard forms of belief and meaning as absurd and wishes to be left alone by others. Since he has no truth to follow, he comforts himself by refusing to lie and pretend for other people's sake. The Stranger established Camus as an important voice in literature and philosophy.

    The Plague (1947)

    Camus continued to explore the struggle for meaning in his next novel, The Plague. In the 1940s, the French-Algerian city of Oran suffers an outbreak of the bubonic plague. The narrator assists Dr. Bernard Rieux as he attempts to convince the city authorities that the deadly disease has returned. As the death toll begins to rise, the citizens struggle to survive and maintain civility as the quarantine takes its toll.

    In The Plague, Camus uses a first-hand account of the city's struggle to reflect the idea of civility and the need to fight against overwhelming odds. Written shortly after WWII, the story can be viewed as an allegory for the French resistance's struggle against Nazi Occupation.

    "The Myth of Sisyphus" (1955)

    First published in French as "Le Mythe de Sisyphe" (1942), this philosophical essay introduces Camus' version of Absurdism. Camus acknowledges that a belief in Absurdism could engender the idea that since life is meaningless, suicide is a justifiable choice. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to spend eternity pushing a giant boulder to the top of a mountain, after which it would roll back to the bottom, and he would repeat the task.

    Albert Camus, Sisyphus, StudySmarterSisyphus was doomed to an eternity of repetition and toil. Wikicommons

    Camus uses the eternal and inescapable punishment to represent the struggle of living an absurd life.

    Since Absurdism sees no meaning in existence, Camus argues that humans should embrace the suffering and frustration of existence to live a whole life. Humans must "imagine Sisyphus happy." This ability to recognize suffering, laugh it off, and continue is a fundamental part of absurdist thinking.

    Albert Camus: Quotes

    In his writings, Camus used straightforward prose to tackle important questions about life and meaning. Here are some quotes from Camus' important works.

    "Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm — this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day, the "why" arises, and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement."- "The Myth of Sisyphus" (Absurd Walls)

    In "The Myth of Sisyphus," Camus provides insight into the philosophical concept of Absurdism. Camus points out that most people live structured, repetitive lives without considering the idea of deeper meaning yet fail to see the absurdity in this type of existence. To Camus, the best way to live was to embrace the absurd meaningless of life as an inescapable reality and find joy in living rather than trying to create meaning.

    "Once plague had shut the gates of the town, they had settled down to a life of separation, debarred from the living warmth that gives forgetfulness of all." - The Plague (Part 5)

    In The Plague, the citizens of Oran face a prolonged quarantine. Camus looks at this impact on civility and a shared sense of duty. The plague slowly decays the city's social fabric as the people feel separated and suspicious of others. Yet, against this hopelessness, the novel's protagonist, Dr. Bernard Rieux, continues to fulfill his duties and care for his dying patients. Camus uses the doctor to comment on the brave act of continuing despite insurmountable odds.

    Albert Camus - Key takeaways

    • Albert Camus was a French-Algerian writer and philosopher.
    • During WWII, Camus worked as a journalist and editor for the underground French resistance publication in Nazi-occupied Paris.
    • Albert Camus emerged as an important figure in the postwar literary scene in Paris. He was friends with influential existential thinker Jean-Paul Sartre.
    • His most famous work, The Stranger (1942), is a philosophical novel that deals with the concept of Absurdism.
    • While Camus rejected all traditional forms of belief and meaning, he argued that humans must embrace life's absurd nature to live a whole life.

    1 David Huw Burston, Psychological, Archetypal and Phenomenological Perspectives on Soccer, 2014.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Albert Camus

    Who is Albert Camus?

    Albert Camus is a French-Algerian writer and philosopher whose work dealt with absurdist themes and the meaninglessness of life. 

    How did Albert Camus die?

    Albert Camus died in a car accident on January 4, 1960. 

    When and where was Albert Camus born?

    Albert Camus was born in French Algeria in 1913. 

    Who was Albert Camus influenced by?

    Albert Camus was influenced by greek Philosophers and early Christian thinkers. 

    What is Albert Camus' The Stranger about?

    The Stranger is about a young French-Algerian man who feels disconnected from other people and society. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    In which country was Albert Camus born? 

    Albert Camus is best known for his contributions to literature and _________. 

    Which branch of philosophy is Albert Camus most associated with? 


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