Objective: The objective of this paper is to explore, analyze, and discuss how Albert Camus has handled the theme of revolt in his play “The Just Assassins”. Doing so has required exploring the different characters presented in the play and how they respond to violence as the means to an end in achieving social change.

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Theme of Revolt in Albert Camus’ “The Just Assassins”

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Understanding the intention of Albert Camus’ treatment of revolt in “The Just Assassins”1 is about understanding how he had looked at the despotic revolutionary mind set. Camus’ 1949 work on what would become his play he called “The Just Assassins”1 is a testament to why Camus’ fiction has been classified political.4

The play has provided the ethos, pathos, and logos of revolt as the characters have been depicted. Some have viewed this as with his other works as somewhat autobiographical4 but this play in terms of political revolt is more focused on the recurring aspects that had to do with the European political mobilization going on in the Frenchman’s lifetime.1-4 “The Just Assassins”1 clearly takes a negative position toward the characters who have plotted and carried out the assassination of a prominent government leader with Camus having referred to them as terrorists.1

With the play having focused the story about a group of Russian revolutionists Camus had taken the opportunity to again refer to the aesthetics of politics as he saw them at this pivotal time in the world’s history. By doing so Camus had defined the solidarity of those participating in an event that had the intention of creating a social revolt against what they viewed as an unjust government. One writer4 had written how Camus’ Paris production of the play had brought numbers of people in the audience to tears as they had recalled memories of the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of the French capital. This has been argued as an underlying position that Camus’ may have taken as it had connected to his devotion during the occupation to an underground movement (a part of the French Resistance).4

The setting of the play is in 1905 Russia and the assassins are a small group of anarchists that Camus’ has obviously drawn from the historical communist takeover of the former Russian monarchy to become the Soviet Socialist Republic. The idea of an assassination as part of a revolt for political change via the plan of this Organization of Social Revolutionaries to murder this government official has been created in the varying degree of commitment of the characters in the play to this cause for social change. Some of these characters are developed to portray a person that has been driven by both envy and revenge, while at the same time all in this group of assassins have been shown expressing a collective and steadfast devotion to use violence in this act of revolt. This is a revolt intent upon achieving a more justified government to rule Russia.1

Revolt as shown in the play has its moral framework when the character Kaliayev is about to place the assassins bomb into the carriage of the intended victim and realizes there are children amid the vehicle. This has creative conflict within this act of revolt and the dialogue that takes place among four others of this assassin’s crew becomes a debate about the justification needed to create a balance between the means and outcomes of political revolt to achieve change as it relates to the limits of violence.4

Camus theme about revolt against despotism in this play has proven it more than a simple object. Rather, revolt is about the nature of the modern mindset.4 In other words revolt against a despotic government in the view of Camus is about the future, yet the truest revolutionary is required to love the world in its existing state. Consequently, what has emerged in Camus’ view of revolt in this play is about having an ethical action take place in the present to make way for the future politically.4

Subjectively, when considering the different characters representing this political revolt story presented in the play shows how Camus’ life experiences amid the pragmatic intrigue of his activities in the French Resistance are evinced. There is Voinov who is committed to this revolt yet, violence is something he is not able to carry out. While he clearly has accepted the propaganda of using the bomb he is still more inclined to be a part of the assassins group from afar when the bomb explodes and does its dirty deed, so he does not have to witness this violence. Putting this character in perspective, then gives an insight into the possible attitude about revolt that Camus had come to realized from his own life experiences with revolt and its use as a counter measure as was the case with his involvement in the French Resistance.

Kaliayev and Dora emerge as the least antagonistic. They are vulnerable to the will of the group as well as flexible and speak to the fact that revolt is made of different kinds of people. The essence of revolt as Camus has depicted it via this motley crew of revolutionists through these characters has taken the political deed into the realms of morality, how the means to the end are questions of morality, and how a collective can change the individual’s philosophy about violence as part of a revolt.

“The Just Assassins” is a complex play that asks the audience to question the actions of the characters in their revolt against the government for social change. This intentional development of the characters by Camus to show the different underlying philosophical depths of their psyche has offered different aspects of the justification of violence, or not.