The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Damon Barta

Damon has taught college English and has an MA in literature.

This lesson will summarize ~'The Myth of Sisyphus~' (1942) by the philosopher Albert Camus and provide an analysis of the concept of the absurd as described in the essay.

Suicide and ''The Myth of Sisyphus''

What happens when people lose hope? Suicide is the tragic answer for some. However, Albert Camus argues in ''The Myth of Sisyphus'' that a loss of hope need not be a cause for suicide. On the contrary, Camus suggests that the recognition that there is no hope for anything beyond certain death (what he calls the realization of the absurd) actually offers the possibility of a happier existence. Let's have a look at his argument.


The Absurd Reasoning

In this first section, Camus sets out the fundamental purpose of his essay, describes his concept of the absurd and articulates the consequences of one's encounter with the absurd. This purpose is to determine whether or not life is worth living after one becomes aware of its fundamental absurdity. He defines the absurd as the condition in which the ''world evades us and becomes itself again'' rather than something that belongs to us or any higher power. He describes the moment at which one recognizes this as an encounter with the absurd.

Because there is no remedy for this awareness, Camus proposes revolt, or ''constant confrontation'' with the absurd. He also suggests that freedom is available in the absurd since any ''scale of values'' is tied to a belief in the meaning of life. One is no longer bound to these values. A third consequence of the absurd, says Camus, is passion, or the enthusiastic embrace of the meaningless life and a rejection of suicide.

Absurd Characters

In this section, Camus offers some examples of those who he thinks have a deeper insight into the absurd, such as lovers, actors, and conquerors. The lovers pursue the pleasures of love knowing they are fleeting and rare. The actors make a living by appearing to live, and conquerors act decisively instead of engaging in useless moralizing. These types, he says, have an advantage over others because they know that any sense of enduring accomplishment is illusory.

Absurd Creation

Camus also discusses the function of art in the absurd. Art does not explain the absurd or solve the problem it creates, argues Camus, but rather describes the conditions of existence with an awareness of its futility. Creative enterprises, however, offer the artist opportunities to maximize their experience. In creating art, Camus suggests, artists make the most of their lives.

A painting of Sisyphus, the absurd hero

The Myth of Sisyphus

Finally, Camus lays out a metaphor for absurdity in the figure of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a figure from Greek mythology who has been condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down where he must repeat this task infinitely. Camus asks us to consider Sisyphus, especially at the point where he must repeat his task. Since he accepts that he has no hope of ever doing anything else, he does what he does each time with ''his scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life.'' This, for Camus, makes him ''the absurd hero.''

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