A Relationship Remembered
Brian E. Denton
44

It may have been only the superficial similarities, but I find this chapter and the next to evoke what Camus worked out later in The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. Pierre is faced with the absurdity of execution. “Who was doing this?” he asks. All of the characters are caught in a machine, one which Pierre in fact remarks appears to be functioning well, despite the gruesome end to which it has been put. Had he had more time to consider things, he might have ended up in Meursault’s frame of mind as he awaited his execution:

“If by some extraordinary chance the blade failed, they would just start over. So the thing that bothered me the most was that the condemned man had to hope the machine would work the first time. And I say that’s wrong. …But in other way I was forced to admit that that was the whole secret of good organization. …the condemned man was forced into a kind of moral collaboration. It was in his interest that everything go off without a hitch.”

Tolstoy and Camus offer apparently divergent means of maintaining dignity while in the clutches of such a machine, but I’m not sure they’re so different after all. Camus suggests revolt: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”, he writes, if for no other reason that Sisyphus, consummate absurd man, can and has seized control of that which is firmly his to control. Tolstoy, too, has in many ways asserted the same, though I’m not sure he would count this as a revolt. For what it’s worth, Pierre (in the next chapter, I think) considers and immediately discards the thought of physical revolt against his situation, but he perhaps has too little time to develop a psychological revolt. Something tells me he will get this chance.

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