Albert Camus was one of those who has seen as well as suffered the atrocities of World War II. His Idea of Absurdism is deeply influenced by the wars.
However, he didn’t like himself to be called a philosopher of the absurd. For this reason, he showed very less interest in absurdism after composing his Myth of Sisyphus.
But this philosophy is reflected in some of his works including the Cross Purpose. Camus provides an idea of dualism like ecstasy and misery, life and death etc.
He argues that a person should accept the misery as his integral part and struggle for the joy; he must accept the fact that death is inevitable but should not give up the struggle to live his life fully.
If one fails to struggle in his life or in other words finding the meaning of life, he should kill himself. In this regard, he rejects Nihilism that holds that struggling for the meaning of life is useless.
In the Second Letter to a German friend, Camus says, “if nothing had any meaning you would right but there is something that still has a meaning.“
Theme of game
Albert Camus main contribution to Absurdism is the Myth of Sisyphus. I will discuss his other play the misunderstanding and will try to describe the theme of the game played by the trio with one another.
This game is characterized by their inability to make a conversation. Albert Camus sums up his play as “A son wants to be recognized without having to say his name and who is killed by his mother and sister following a misunderstanding“.
Murders Mother & Daughter
An old lady and her daughter Martha run an inn. Martha desires to leave it and move to ‘elsewhere’ that is beautiful and calm. To accomplish this desire both the ladies murder the rich guests who live in their inn, snatch away all the material things from them and throw their bodies in a nearby river.
Jan Comes Back
The protagonist Jan who is the son of the old lady and the brother of Martha comes back along with his wife Maria from Czechoslovakia to his home after living in exile for 20 years.
Maria suggests him to reveal his real identity. However, he does not agree with her and keeps his identity secret in order to see what his family is doing as an outsider.
His reason for coming to the home is to provide financial support to his family or in other words, fulfil his desire of giving happiness to her family. His wife accompanies him as she wants her husband to be happy.
Everybody Plays Game
Keeping his identity secret he tries to play a game with his mother and sister but the latter fails to recognize him although he tries to give hints. On the other hand, his mother and sister also play a game with him which he is unaware.
The game played by his mother and sister is to kill him and take away all his money. Neither of them realizes what the other is going to do.
Story of Sisyphus
This theme of the game is also present in Greek mythology which Camus refers to in his work the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, a powerful king takes pleasure in killing travellers and guests. He once betrays Zeus by revealing his secrets. Zeus sends Thanatos (Death) to chain Sisyphus instead of taking him to the underworld.
Sisyphus finding Thanatos alone doubts why Hermes (who takes souls to The Underworld) is not accompanying him. Thus he plays a game with Thanatos which the latter is quite unaware of.
He asks Thanatos to show him the working of chains. Thanatos who was already playing a game with Sisyphus by keeping him ignorant about what Zeus wanted.
As soon as Thanatos tries to show him the working of chains Sisyphus takes the opportunity and traps Thanatos instead.
In Misunderstanding, like Thanatos, Jan fails to discover that both his mother and sister have become murders in order to earn their livelihood the justification that Martha and her mother seek consolation is in their belief that they are relieving the Travellers from there sorrowful life which is worse than death. He also failed to realize that he is about to become the next victim of the ladies.
In this context, the absurdity of the world is the field. Like the justification of the ladies the Nations also justify themselves by holding the belief that they are fighting the war in order to preserve their identity and interest.
Thus they play games with each other. In this, way the concept of morality becomes absurd. Everyone is right in his thoughts in his own way.
In the second act, the trio fails to establish a communication that leads to a tragic end of all of them. At the beginning of the second act, Jan and Martha start a discussion.
Jan tries to make hints about his identity but does not act. Martha failing to make a connection with him keeps asking him about the land where he lives and on his property.
When Jan evokes the soft Mediterranean landscapes, nature, the sun and the lyricism of these evocations, his sister feels a sort of joy for some moment. However soon she comes out of the imaginations and resumes her game. She serves him the poisoned tea.
The old lady arrives and a discussion begins between son and mother. Still, no one understands each others game nor identity. Jan’s respectful way of talking makes his mother avoid the idea of killing him but Jan being already poisoned dies shortly. When Maria arrives, she starts a discussion with Martha as follows,
MARIA [in a sort of reverie]: But why, why did you do it?
MARTHA: What right do you have to question me?
MARIA [passionately]: What right?… My love for him.
MARTHA: What does that word mean?
MARIA: It means – it means all that at this moment is tearing, gnawing at my heart; it means this rush of frenzy that makes my fingers itch for murder. It means all my past joys, and this wild, sudden grief you have brought me. Yes, you crazy woman, if it wasn’t that I’ve steeled my heart against believing, you’d learn the meaning of that word, when you felt my nails scoring your cheeks.
MARTHA: Again you are using language I cannot understand. Words like love and joy and grief are meaningless to me.
MARIA [making a great effort to speak calmly]: Listen, Martha – that’s your name isn’t it? Let’s stop this game, if the game it is, of cross-purposes. Let’s have done with useless words. Tell me quite clearly what I want to know quite clearly before I let myself break down.
MARTHA: Surely I made it clear enough. We did to your husband last night what we had done to other travelers, before; we killed him and took his money.
MARIA: So his mother and sister were criminals?
MARTHA: Yes. But that’s their business, and no one else’s.”
Desire of Going “Elsewhere”
As seen in the conversation, the desire to go elsewhere is the reason that makes her kill Jan. For her love is something strange. On the other, love is the force that makes Maria cry for Jan and for her murder is something strange. Hence a conflict between love and cruelty. This is one of the features of absurdism.
In the end, the old man reveals the identity of Jan. Mother in grief and unable to bear to live in the memory of her crime drones herself in the river.
Martha who is equally in despair curses her mother because she left her alone and also put an end to her dream of happiness and elsewhere. She tells Maria to pray to God and kill herself. This is the first solution that Albert Camus provides. (Suicide or escape)
Maria, on the other hand, embraces philosophical suicide buy praying to God while the old man and Ops III solution that is embracing absurdity.
In the play, everyone plays again in order to achieve joy and peace. However, no succeeds in winning it fully. Jan is murdered. Martha fails to go to ‘elsewhere’. Maria who accompanied Jan for joy fails to get it.
Everyone is a failure. This is the reality of the world and its absurdity. Every person please come in spite of being bound by a number of limitations and ultimately suffer despair and grief