Common Themes in The Myth of Sisyphus, Waiting for Godot, and Hannah and Her Sisters
Joseph Campbell once argued “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Whether you believe in universal truths or finding individual meaning in life, one cannot argue with the fact that the human race greatly differs in their opinions on this subject. The Myth of Sisyphus, Waiting for Godot, and Hannah and Her Sisters are three very different stories from entirely different time periods and settings, each offering their own unique opinion on the human experience.
In Albert Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, he offers his opinion on the life and nature of the mythological greek figure. However, it is in Camus’ description and analysis of Sisyphus’ afterlife, rather than his earthly existence, where Camus’ opinions on the meaning of life really come to light. Our hero, forced to strive endlessly day and night to push a large stone up to the top of a hill, is cursed with the fate of watching it roll down again. He then must again partake in the arduous task of returning the boulder to its previous position up on the hill, only to watch it fall once more. This repeating cycle would be torture for any man. Camus, however, sees it in another light. Admitting that this action is indeed futile, he makes no attempt to argue that the pushing of the rock itself is a worthwhile action. Instead, he argues that the action should give Sisyphus enough meaning to be happy, saying “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” Therefore, it is inferred that it is not the destination that we find meaning in, but rather the journey that makes us truly happy.
The play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett tells the story of two lonely men, striving to find meaning and purpose in their actions. Vladimir and Estragon discuss pointless and trivial subjects, hardly ever reaching any sense of conclusion. Their setting, a tree beside a road, has no real bearing on the events of the story. Every action seems to be completely without purpose. In fact, sometimes they hardly remember what they did simply a few minutes before! They wait constantly for Godot, but it is clear at the end that they have come no closer to seeing him. They are quite utterly and completely back where they started. Ultimately, it is determined that all is useless, life simply nonsensical and meaningless. At first glance, this may seem very much like Camus’ interpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus; On second glance, however, the reader will come to realize that true happiness can never be achieved for the characters, as they are hoping for something that will forever be out of reach.
In Woody Allen’s movie “Hannah and Her Sisters”, a troubled family struggles in the midst of betrayal, insecurity, and jealousy. Allen’s comic writing and directing make for a comedy, but truly there are much darker issues lying beneath the surface. Through the film’s exploration of each character’s desire to have more out of life, each sister goes through her own life journey. Lee struggles with attention and a lack of satisfaction with the men in her life, one of whom is Hannah’s husband. Hannah’s ex-husband, Mickey, constantly worries about everything in his life, from his job to his health to his relationships. In the end, however, he overcomes his seemingly ceaseless worried attitude and realizes that in order to enjoy his life, he must free himself from his worry. It is this realization that helps him to fall in love with Hannah’s other sister, Holly, and eventually marry her. While some characters find what they are looking for and some do not, the ending is generally a happy one. I would argue that the point that Allen is making is that life can be but is not necessarily happy, we must find our own way and realize that life is ultimately what you make of it. Life itself has no purpose, we must give it purpose.
It is utterly impossible to come up with one meaning of life that everyone can agree on. Each religion, philosophy, and even each individual has their own perception of what gives life meaning according to them. Some may agree that purpose is found in the struggle of day to day life, others may argue that true meaning is always out of reach, and still others may believe that life is what you make of it. Whichever one’s opinion is, we are not alone in attempting to discover it. The quest for meaning in life is an eternal journey for every member of the human race.
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