Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” was the basis for future reference to what literary critics and the like would refer to as the “tragic hero”. The tragic hero, as defined by Camus, is a character in a story, play, or novel that is forever doomed to an undesirable fate. In The Stranger, the story’s protagonist Monsieur Meursault would be defined as a “tragic hero”. He is eventually doomed to a most horrible fate, he feels no hope for himself or his survival, and he accepts what he has to do with no question.
As a result of the murder that Meursault committed, the character is doomed to jail and to eventual execution on a count of murder. Doomed to this fate, Meursault finds himself in a most undesirable position and recognizes it. The narrator says, “nothing could be clearer. Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying” (11). This particular quote shows the character’s realization that death is something that, sooner or later, he will have to face. It’s as unavoidable as breathing or old age. Death at that point became a part of life; it was Meursault’s very short life.
Our hero is not such a hero throughout the course of the novel (or at least doesn’t realize it). He does have much hope in the beginning of his trial. Meursault says that “I can count the times I’ve wondered if there have been any instances of condemned men escaping the relentless machinery, disappearing before the execution or breaking through the cordon of police” (108). The narrator is clearly hopeful. He is trying to comfort himself by contemplating a possible “way out”. He soon realizes that this is impossible and comes to his senses: “Of course hope meant being rundown on a street corner, as you ran like mad, from some random bullet” (109). Meursault realizes that any hoping would just be delaying the inevitable. Death would come sooner or later for everyone. For him it just happened to be now.
Meursault’s ultimate conversion into the “tragic hero” figure comes at the end of the novel when he realized how important Maman’s death really was. He mentions that “So close to death, Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again” (122). He knows that his mother was a “tragic hero” as well. She accepted her death and looked back on the things in her life. She didn’t dwell on the death ahead of her. Dwelling would only show signs of hope. The narrator mentions that “As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope, for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world” (122). His world now had become one of indifference. Hope was no longer a factor for him. It was at that moment that he truly realized where his life was heading. And he made no attempt to stop it. For it was inevitable and he knew it.
Monsieur Meursault, if even for the smallest reasons, could in every way be defined as a “tragic hero” in the eyes of Albert Camus. His hopelessness and eventual indifference help him to realize that his life was speeding to an end and nothing he could do would stop it. His mother was a “tragic hero” as well, realizing how hopeless avoiding death was and choosing not to dwindle on what was going to happen. His mother learned to look back on the things in the pats and keep them for what they are. Looking towards the future would only build false hopes. False hopes do not fit the traits of a “tragic hero” in any way.