A Happy Death, by existentialist philosopher Albert
Camus follows Patrice Mersault, a man who is ostensibly unsatisfied with life
as he struggles to bring meaning to it. Throughout his extensive amount of
traveling and sexual encounters with different women, Mersault learns that a
lifetime of moments that brought temporary happiness leaves him not happy, but
content with the life he had lived. Cambridge Dictionary defines happiness as a
feeling or a state. Therefore, it is questioned what feelings must be
understood before happiness can be. A
Happy Death develops an ambiguous meaning for the word ‘happiness’ through
Mersault’s morals, values and experiences.
Camus mirrors his diverse existentialist
thoughts and views onto his character, Mersault. Nihilism, an element of
existentialism presents the idea that life has no meaning until one makes a meaning
for it. Mersault, although subjective to his own happiness, allows himself to be
convinced that another person’s experience will define his happiness as well.
Zagreus explains to Mersault that happiness must entail money and time, and
without these two necessities, one cannot be happy (1972, p. 43). Most humans
spend nearly a third of their life making money. To make money, time must also
be made. What Zagreus stresses is that like materialistic items, the most
valuable material that can be bought with money is time. However, this biased
definition of happiness comes from Zagreus, a man who can afford to say that
money is needed in order to be happy. Although money can temporarily bring the
feeling of happiness to the beholder, it is definite that all humans are not
able to appreciate money and the materialistic, temporary state of happiness it
is able to bring.
Unlike Zagreus, Mersault indulges in
superficial joys. Before his death, Mersault travels extensively, meets five
different women and is found with a cigarette in his mouth at most times (1972,
p. 40). Like the high of a drug, most happiness is limited. One may compare
happiness to that of a perpetual high with no eventual comedown. Humans are
quick to settle for a temporary happiness rather than waiting to find a
lifelong happiness in themselves. Like Mersault enjoys the superficiality joy
of travel, sex, and smoking, most humans can find a way to conceal the problems
they do not want to face. However, these moments of euphoria can leave one
feeling a routine of unfullfillment. Every drug’s high must have a comedown and
every sexual encounter’s climax must fall. In Mersault’s case, it seems as
though every time he attempts to bring meaning and happiness to his life, each
woman leaves him just as unsatisfied and with even more desire than the last.
Mere glimpses of happiness, such as travel, women and sex, and smoking are
unrealistic in bearing long-term happiness for a person. Ergo, Mersault fails
to ever find a genuine meaning of happiness and is left with only contentment
when he finally dies.
A problem that Mersault faces is
that he simply does not let himself find natural happiness. After murdering
Zagreus, he begins his extensive travel and flees Algiers to Prague. Mersault
finds himself living miserably wherever he goes. However, happiness is transitory.
To understand a certain state of mind, one must understand another first. To
die happy, the double lesson of pain and joy must be learned (1972, p. 102) For
example, to know happiness, one must experience unhappiness. The short-lived
happiness of that was a result of Mersault’s impulsive decision to travel
quickly collapsed after visiting Prague, as he cries and presses his tears onto
the window pane of the train (1972, p. 72). In comparison with the high of a
drug, the user must experience being sober in order to understand the affects
of the high. Similarly, Mersault experiences a metaphorical ‘high’ in his
impulsive acts, only recognizing this feeling because it is different from what
emotions created his desire to travel. Despite his search for happiness taking
him away from Algiers, he still returns as he finds travelling does not fulfill
him in the way which he had hoped.
However, Mersault only looks for a happiness he cannot seem to achieve.
In everything he attempts to find meaningfulness in, he can only find more
nothingness. This ultimately returns Mersault to a state of calamity.
On his search for hedonism, his
pursuit of pleasure, Mersault surrounds himself with what he knows pleases him.
Mersault values friendship and love, so he spends time living with three women
named Catherine, Claire, and Rose. They persuade him to return to Algiers by
convincing him that if it is happiness that appeals to him, he can find it
there (1972, p. 78). For the time being, Mersault enjoys the company of the three
girls, bringing him some degree of happiness, although it is not what he has
been looking for. In the same way Mersault finds a certain extent of happiness
in travel, Mersault only allows himself to feel content in returning home and
living with friends who once brought him happiness. Also during this time,
Mersault becomes intimate with the the first woman since he left Marthe.
Lucienne, a woman whom he describes how he loves her in a physical sense,
however, he never truly loves her as a whole. Mersault did not love Lucienne
nor did he love Marthe. Mersault craved a love in his life to serve as an alibi
from the vague despairs he suffered from (1972, p. 114) Like every hatred,
every love is also forgotten. With this thought, it may be easy for one to see
how it could be so normal for a person to be with another, but not love them.
Some may argue love is a feeling of mutual value toward each other, and others
may say love is more than a feeling. Mersault is careful to not abuse the word
love with the women he is with, as he feels that if he does find the true
meaning of love in a woman, he will still be unhappy. One working of the mind
is to constantly deceive one into believing something that is untrue. So,
Mersault settles for the temporary happiness a woman brings him to satisfy his
desires, however, nothing more.