In Albert Camus’s The Stranger as well as The Myth of Sisyphus Camus describes a variety of intimate relationships. Man’s struggle to deal with the relationship between him or herself and the absurd dominates Camus’s works and it dominates the relationships Camus creates as well. The relationships between Mersault and his mother, Mersault’s mother and Perez, Salamano and his dog, Mersault and Marie, Raymond and his lover, and Don Juan, are all examples of how people might choose to deal with their absurd life through a relationship with others. By studying these relationships and excerpts from the Myth of Sisyphus one can gain an understanding of what the notion of love might have meant for Mersault as well as his feelings on the intimate relationship. Camus seems to value the intimate relationship as long as those who are engaged in the relationship possess lucidity and do not fall into habit. By studying these relationships one can infer that Camus’s sees intimate relationships as a good thing; but those relationships where each individual is conscious of the reality of the relationships are most effective and fulfilling.
What is love to Camus? Camus writes, “we call love what binds us to certain creatures only by reference to a collective way of seeing for which books and legends are responsible. But of love I know only that mixture of desire, affection, and intelligence that binds me to this or that creature. That compound is not the same for another person” (Myth 73). Camus was a womanizer. In the Myth of Sisyphus he writes, “There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional” (74). Does it follow that the best love for Camus is a temporary fling? This is precisely the kind of love that one of Camus’s absurd men, Don Juan, follows.
Camus considers Don Juan to be an absurd man because he is conscious of his affairs. What does this mean? To be conscious of ones intimate relationships? Aren’t we all? Camus writes, “he is conscious, and that is why he is absurd” (Myth 72). Although Don Juan seems to be living freely he also has gotten used to his routine. It would be hard or impossible for Don Juan to settle down with a wife. “What Don Juan realizes in action is an ethic of quantity, whereas the saint, on the contrary, tends toward quality” (Myth 72).
The main relationship in The Stranger is the one between Mersault and Marie. Mersault is concerned merely with existing and living in the moment. He finds pleasure in Marie’s breasts and he frequently desires to make love with her. He tells Marie he does not love her, but will marry her. Raymond asks Mersault if he wants to be pals; Mersault says yes because it’s all the same to him. Mersault is indifferent to anything. He merely exists, and with whom he exists doesn’t matter. Mersault says that the relationship between Salamano and his dog is not a pity. For Mersault, people have their relationships and they don’t mean anything. Relationships don’t have any special significance for Mersault, just like love doesn’t, just like Camus says one should live his or her life. Camus is not concerned with abstractions such as love. “Not to believe in the profound meaning of things belongs to the absurd man” (Myth 72). Mersault does not believe in the profound meaning of love so often portrayed in novels and movies. “When she laughed I wanted her again. A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so” (35). “I explained to her that it didn’t really matter and that if she wanted to, we could get married… Then she pointed out that marriage was a serious thing. I said, ‘No.’… She just wanted to know if I would have accepted the same proposal from another woman, with whom I was involved in the same way. I said, ‘Sure.’” (41-42). There is something to Mersault and Marie’s relationship. Mersault writes, “Together again, Marie and I swam out a ways, and we felt a closeness as we moved in unison and were happy” (50). Thinking about Marie, Mersault writes, “apart from our two bodies, now separated, there wasn’t anything to keep us together or even to remind us of each other?” (115).
Then there is old Salamano and his dog. Camus writes, “The two of them have been inseparable for eight years” (26). Mersault thinks they hate each other, as he writes, “They look as if they belong to the same species, and yet they hate each other” (27). Salamano has developed a routine and habit in his life. His habit is his dog. Camus writes of them, “Twice a day, at eleven and six, the old man takes the dog out for a walk. They haven’t changed their route in eight years” (27). They have an abominable relationship. Salamano beats and swears at his dog.. Salamano hates that it is a habit. He expresses this as he says to Mersault full of rage “‘He’s always there’” (28). The old man loves his dog. He is totally helpless when he loses it. Salamano says “If only somebody would take him in” (39). Salamano is genuinely concerned with his dog’s well being. Does this align with Camus’s vision of love? Concern? Salamano did not know what he would do without his dog. He had become dependent on the dog to justify his existence and now he had to change and find new meaning in the absurd world. Mersault writes, “I told old Salamano that he could get another dog, but he was right to point out to me that he was used to this one… He hadn’t been happy with his wife, but he’d pretty much gotten used to her. When she died he had been very lonely” (44).
For Raymond and his mistress the relationship is all about sex and possibly for using Raymond’s money. Mersault as the narrator writes, speaking of Raymond, “What bothered him was that he ‘still had sexual feelings for her.’ But he wanted to punish her” (31). This relationship is selfish. Each party only cares about him or herself. Raymond beats her and says “You used me, you used me. I’ll teach you to use me” (35). There is no love between these people.
There is also the relationship between Camus and his mother. Mersault writes, “I probably did love Maman, but that didn’t mean anything” (65). Mersault isn’t concerned with classifying his relationships, he simply has them and lives them. What is the point of of giving a relationship the title of love. It takes away from the relationship at hand and transcends it beyond what it is. “Anyway, it was one of Maman’s ideas, and she often repeated it, that after a while you could get used to anything” (77). At the end of the book Mersault thinks of his mother. He writes, “For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman. I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a “fiancé,” why she had played at beginning again. Even there, in that home where lives were fading out, evening was a kind of wistful respite. So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again… And I felt ready to live it all again too”.
“For the love we are speaking of Here is clothed in illusions of the eternal” (Myth 73).
“He (Don Juan) knows just as well that those who turn away from all personal life through a great love enrich themselves perhaps but certainly impoverish those their love has chosen. A mother or a passionate wife necessarily has a closed heart, for it is turned away from the world. A single emotion, a single creature, a single face, but all is devoured. Quite a different love disturbs Don Juan, and this one is liberating. It brings with it all the faces in the world, and its tremor comes from the fact that it knows itself to be mortal. Don Juan has chosen to be nothing… For him it is a matter of seeing clearly” (Myth 73).
Salamano has desire for his dog. This is love. Maman and Perez have affection for each other. Camus recognizes that his relationships are one way but others might have different kinds of love and relationships.
“If it were sufficient to love, things would be too easy. The more one loves, the stronger the absurd grows… he loves them with the same passion and each time with his whole self that he must repeat his gift and his profound quest… Why should it be essential to love rarely in order to love much?” (Myth 69). Camus’s own life. I disagree with Camus. I think it is sufficient to love to be happy.
“The point is to live” (Myth 65). The point it to be conscious and knowingly live your life.
“Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion” (Myth 64). How does this correspond to love? Passionate, free love.
Don Juan and Mersault are absurd because they are conscious. Meaningful, intimate relationships are those in which one is conscious of the relationship between the individuals and their absurd relationship to the world. Those who succumb to habit will have shallow dependent relationships. People don’t want to change. But change is essential to living a meaningful lucid life. If one pays attention to every moment of one’s life one sees things that can change and become better.
The value of being alive is all that Camus can justify. Are love and marriage abstractions that Mersault doesn’t care about?
Mersault was “able to understand Maman better. Evenings in that part of the country must have been a kind of sad relief” (The Stranger 15).