In The Plague, we see the people of Oran going to beaches (but only on Sundays!) and we see men and women performing “the act of love”: having to love one another without knowing much about it. The social encounter exists, but the force of the social encounter isn’t there. Pleasure is to be found in love-making, sea-bathing, or going to the pictures, but there is no passion in such pleasure. Life in Oran is more lifeless than death itself – it’s an absurd existence.
As a philosopher, Camus was interested in “the Absurd”: the human tendency to seek meaning in life, and the human inability to find that meaning. The paradox of the Absurd is reflected in another of Camus’ works, The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is sentenced by the Greek gods to an eternal punishment: he must push a boulder up a mountain, but as soon as he pushes the boulder to the top, it rolls back down, and Sisyphus must start again. Here, Camus tells us we have three choices: we can either commit suicide by rejecting life as completely meaningless, take a leap of faith and reject absurdism itself, or we can do what Sisyphus does: embrace the absurdity of life. We can recognize two things: first, we are human beings with an innate need to make sense of the universe, and second, the universe doesn’t care about us human beings. There is no answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?” we ask. As the article from which this picture is cited states, Sisyphus recognizes “life was meaningless anyway so he might as well keep pushing this boulder”.
Rereading the novel, we can now ask: Who is Sisyphus in the novel? What is the boulder they must keep pushing? And finally, are we ourselves Sisyphus? If we are, what do we do now?