Date of Award
Master of Arts in French
Throughout his literary career Albert Camus reveals in his works a preoccupation with mortality, a concern so intense that he seems to be directing himself on a quest for sainthood. The purpose of this thesis is to consider Camus’ quest as it is revealed in his works and to demonstrate its affinities with the quest of the Christian saint.
The idea of the absurd is the basis of Camus’ philosophy of life; it constitutes the only difference between his conception of sainthood and that of the Christian faith. The Christian saint follows the precepts of Christ because he believes in God; many of Camus’ heroes, although they affirm that the heavens are silent, conduct themselves according to a rigorous mortality based on the same religious precepts.
This essay demonstrates how Camus’ concern with mortality – his quest for sainthood – influences his treatment of the major themes in his works; it traces the increasingly religious tendency of his thought.
Through his treatment of the theme of death, Camus defines his philosophical position. Though death may sometimes seem a means of attaining the absolute, a universe where truth alone holds sway, Camus rejects it vehemently.
Instead, he espouses the idea of revolt – a revolt against death, against the injustice of creation, and against the existence of evil. Moreover, he rejects those who choose violent and therefore self-defeating means in struggling against evil. The courage to protests, the purity of both ends and means, these are the virtues of the Christian saint.
The theme of revolt marks Camus’ evolution – beginning with La Peste – toward a deeper interest in the lot of his fellow men. In this second phase appear also the themes of solidarity and of justice. The characters in La Peste, Les Justes and certain short stories in L’Exil et le Royaume illustrate this new moral dimension in his writings; like Christ, they are ready to dedicate their lives to redeeming those of others.
The justice with which Camus is concerned is a Christian concept. We learn in La Chute that the only honest judges are the Biblical ones in a painting the hero keeps locked in a closet, and they have been sent by God. Once again Camus is attracted by what attracts the Christian saint – divine justice.
In the third phase of Camus’ evolution as a writer we find the themes of love and of innocence. Through them the author again reveals an essentially Christian preoccupation; indeed, love and innocence are the basis of Christian doctrine. At the same time, he explores the nature of guilt, which, together with innocence, he seems to associate with the fall of the first man.
The temptation to strive for sainthood, then, is very strong for many of Camus’ characters. While it does not imply the acceptance of a divine being, this temptation involves the practice of a morality very similar to that of the Christian saint, and the quest for an ultimate good in a universe where the values of good and evil have no meaning.
Hilliard, Aouicha Elosmani, "La Tentation de la Saintete Chez Albert Camus" (1971). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 1533.