The Myth of Sisyphus

The Myth of Sisyphus Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Albert Camus

Albert Camus was born in Algeria when it was still a French colony. His father, Lucien, died in World War I when Camus was still a baby. Camus’ mother, an illiterate house cleaner, brought him up thereafter. Showing aptitude for his schooling, Camus was accepted to the University of Algiers. Here he developed his sense of political engagement, joining first the Communist Party and later the Algerian People’s Party. In 1930 he contracted tuberculosis, causing him to give up playing soccer (he was a skillful goalkeeper) and meaning he had to study part-time. He graduated in 1936. Camus joined the French Resistance at the beginning of World War II, and worked for an underground resistance newspaper, eventually becoming its editor in 1943. It was during his military service, too, that he met Jean-Paul Sartre, the existential philosopher. In 1942, Camus published The Myth of Sisyphus, the first of a number of works that strove to look at the meaning of life and elucidate Camus’ theory of absurdism. Also that year, he published his first novel The Outsider (also translated as The Stranger). The Plague followed in 1947, and The Fall in 1952. In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (becoming the second youngest recipient after Rudyard Kipling). He died in 1960 as the result of a car accident. Camus was married twice, but had strong criticisms of the institution.
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Historical Context of The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus began writing at a turbulent time in the history of mankind. His father was a casualty of World War I, and not long after Camus found himself part of the French Resistance during World War II. The Vichy government had capitulated to the Nazis, surrendering Paris and much of the rest of France too. Perhaps this historical moment can be detected in The Myth of Sisyphus, which represents nothing less than an inquiry into the apparent meaninglessness of life. Furthermore, Camus’ military service kept him away from his native Algeria, perhaps evidenced by the book’s recurrent mention of man’s exile from the world (or from understanding the world). In employing the Greek myth of Sisyphus, though, Camus is keen to stress the ahistorical nature of what he is discussing. That is, though the warring of the twentieth century might have heightened the futility of life—made it more prominently visible—Camus sees the problem of absurdity as one simply fundamental to the human condition. For Camus, mankind’s longing for meaning in a meaningless world was a fact of existence in the past and will remain so in the future. 

Other Books Related to The Myth of Sisyphus

Camus studied philosophy at university, and an inquiry into the meaning of life—or lack of—forms the basis of much of his work. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus defines his philosophy of absurdism—which, in brief, is the confrontation between man’s longing for meaning and the world’s refusal to provide it—through discussion of other philosophers. In fact, Camus explicitly claims not to be a philosopher, such is the distinction he draws between himself and these other writers. Accordingly, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl and Friedrich Nietzsche all crop up intermittently throughout the work. Camus feels all of them have one fatal flaw (aside, perhaps, from Nietzsche): that they try to resolve the absurd, rather than finding a way to live with it in full view. Later in the book, Camus turns to literature in an effort to see if absurd art is possible. He praises the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (author of Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground), for his ability to show the absurd as it functions in daily life, but criticizes Dostoevsky the man for turning back to God in order to resolve life’s meaninglessness. In the book, Camus also cites Franz Kafka, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust and others as writers whom he feels expose the absurdity of life in their work. Camus’ own novels, such as The Plague, were to exert a great influence of the twentieth century and beyond.
Key Facts about The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Full Title: The Myth of Sisyphus
  • When Written: 1942
  • Where Written: France
  • When Published: 1942
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Philosophy
  • Setting: N/A
  • Climax: Sisyphus pushes his rock up the mountain.
  • Antagonist: The world
  • Point of View: First-person and third-person

Extra Credit for The Myth of Sisyphus

Unlikely Tragedy. On the day of his fatal car crash, Camus had intended to take the train. In fact, he had the ticket for the train in his pocket at the time of his death.

Camus’ Vice. Camus was a lifelong smoker and had a pet cat called Cigarette.