Albert Camus is remembered today as one of the leaders of existentialism and more specifically, absurdism. This philosophical idea, which is at the heart of so much of Camus’ written work, states that life is essentially meaningless. Humankind’s quest to find meaning in a meaningless life is absurd. There are several ways one might try to contend with this fact but the best option is to accept the true nature of existence.
The Stranger is certainly Camus’ best-known novel. It follows the absurdist sorry of Meursault, a strange and unhappy man living in Algeria. He moves through his life without purpose and then eventually commits a murder on a beach. The novel is seen as a leading work of the existentialist, or the absurdist (a term Camus preferred) movement. Meursault’s personality, his general disregard for others, himself, and lack of emotions have been studied and pondered since the novel’s publication. The opening and closing lines of the story are some of the best-known in modernist fiction.
The Plague explores a plague that takes place in Algiers, Oran. In order to write this story, Camus looked to an outbreak of cholera in 1849 as inspiration. He moved the events from the 1840s to the 1940s and brought in his own absurdist viewpoint.
It focuses more on the crisis of the moment rather than the illness itself. Camus was interested in exploring the struggle between life and death and what human beings will do to try to control their own fate. The novel was published in 1947.
3. The Myth of Sisyphus
The Myth of Sisyphus is Camus’ best-known essay. It was published in 1942 and outlines Camus’ beliefs about the absurd. Humans must, he wrote, continue to live knowing that there is nothing they can do to avoid their ultimate fate. Camus takes the legend of Sisyphus and uses it as a metaphor for the impossible fight humans have on their hands, against the absurdity of life.
4. The Fall
The Fall was Camus’ last complete fiction work. The story is set in Amsterdam and explores truth, existence, and imprisonment, all themes that can be found in several other stories and novels. It follows the story of a Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a lawyer who delivers the story of his life. The book is made up of a series of monologues that explore his successes and failures. It was published four years before his death, and a year before he won the Nobel Prize.
5. The Rebel
The Rebel is an essay on rebellion. Camus explores why people rebel and how the act of rebellion has changed in the modern world. The essay is quite long, resembling a book more than a story in length. By the end, he comes to the conclusion that people rebel because they are always seeking out meaning, or at least a meaning to their own lives. This is all part of the constant purposeless quest for meaning that all of humanity is on and that absurdism says can’t be resolved.
6. The First Man
The First Man is an unfinished novel that Camus was working on when he died in January of 1960. It was going to be an autobiographical novel and was published by his daughter in 1994. The novel follows the main character, Jacques Cormery, through his youth and young adulthood. It stands apart from the rest of Camus’ works in its physicality and emotion.
7. A Happy Death
A Happy Death was Camus’ first novel. It was written when he was in his early twins and was not published until after his tragic death in 1960. The topic of the novel is generally defined as the creation of one’s own happiness and how money and time relate to one’s ability to successfully become happy. In the novel, Camus looks back on his life. Memories of his fight with TB and his travels through Europe informed his writing.
8. Exile and the Kingdom
Exile and the Kingdom is a collection of six stories that Camus published in 1957. The stories in the volume focus primarily on absurdism, an offshoot of existentialism. One of the best in the collection is “La Pierre qui pousse” or “The Growing Stone,” which is often cited as the poplar opposite of The Stranger. Other stories include “The Silent Men,” “The Guest” and “The Adulterous Woman”.
9. Resistance, Rebellion, and Death
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death is a collection of essays that was published in 1960, the year of Camus’ death. The essays focus on conflict, specifically in regards to Algeria and the Algerian War of Independence. In “Reflections on the Guillotine” he discusses the death penalty. One of the best-known parts of this collection is the “Create Dangerously,” an address which is included in “The Artist and His Time”. The address was given by Camus three years before his death in Uppsala and revolves around the purpose of art-making and the role of the artist.