By Chet Yarbrough
A Happy Death
By: Albert Camus
Narrated by: Jefferson Mays
Albert Camus (1913-1960, Author, philosopher, founder of Absurdist philosophy.)
Albert Camus’s short story is similar to Irvin Yalom’s book, “When Nietzsche Wept”. In “A Happy Death” Camus’ reveals the essence of an Absurdist’s view of life while Yalom reveals a Nihilist’s view of life. Yalom’s story is longer, more informative, and artistic but both stories clarify similarity and difference between an Absurdist’ and Nihilist’ view of life.
Camus tells a story of a man who chooses to commit suicide. Yalom tells a story of Nietzsche who bares life and has no intention of committing suicide. Camus’s character commits suicide because he achieved a purpose in life but could not find a comparable purpose in life to replace the one achieved.
In one sense, Yalom’s characterization of Nietzsche suggests Camus’s suicidal character is a “Superman” because he rejects all religious and moral principles. However, by choosing suicide, he is no longer a “Superman” to Nietzsche.
To Camus, he was never a “Superman”. He is an Absurdist who has simply lost his chosen purpose in life because of the randomness of worldly existence. Camus’s character chooses suicide because his chosen purpose in life is taken away from him. His legs are amputated because of a random event of life.
To Nietzsche, life is pointless because there is no meaning to life. To Camus, meaning in life is a human choice, even though, like Nietzsche, he believes there is no God, or moral absolutes.
The answer to life for Camus is not that humans are Superman or Superwoman because there is no God, but that any human man or woman can choose, or not choose, to have purpose in life.
Camus views the world as an absurd place where anything can happen but that does not mean one cannot choose a purpose in life.
Camus notes this character who chooses suicide is different in one other significant way. His chosen purpose in life is to acquire wealth to buy time. He gained wealth. The noted difference reminds one of Montaigne’s essays. Montaigne had the luxury of wealth which gave him time for contemplation.
Camus’s story about Absurdism only begins with the suicide. The person who plans his suicide has a gun to end his life but by someone he chooses. The choice made by the amputee is Camus’s main character, a person wandering through life with no purpose.
The amputee explains he lived a life that earned him two million dollars. It was earned with purpose, by any means necessary. His purpose in life is to become wealthy. He achieves that purpose, but now with no legs, he feels he can no longer pursue that purpose. The main character is given two million dollars to shoot the amputee and make it look like a suicide with a note written by the amputee.
The main character realizes he must choose a purpose in life and ignore the truth of life’s randomness. His purpose in life is not entirely clear, but Camus’s point is that to live life in an Absurdist world, one must choose a purpose.
To Camus, in choosing a purpose, one may find peace, a sense of achievement, and possibly happiness. To Nietzsche, life is something to bare and when it’s over, it’s over. To Nietzsche, there is no purpose in life.
It seems Camus believes it is better to be an Absurdist than a Nihilist. That puts a fine point on the question of suicide. A Nihilist like Nietzsche, presumably, would call one who commits suicide a coward. An Absurdist like Camus would suggest suicide is an option.
Optimistically, Camus shows his main character chooses a way of life that might be considered Epicurean, if not hedonist. Money gave him time to choose a purpose in life. His main character nears death and appears at peace with himself.