Terror And Tragic Optimism As Sustaining Constructs In Camus’s The Plague And Soyinka’s Season Of Anomy

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Terror And Tragic Optimism As Sustaining Constructs In Camus’s The Plague And Soyinka’s Season Of Anomy


Camus’s The Plague has been read variously as an allegory of Nazi terror in France as well as a depiction of Camus’s absurdist philosophy. Many critics of Soyinka’s Season of Anomy strangely also have interpreted the text as an allegory of the Nigerian civil war inwhich terror is seen as a political weapon. Although these modes of reading explore the resistance to terror, critical reading of a work cannot be achieved through allegory which searches for meaning outside the text. The present reading, therefore, while distancing itself from the above perspectives, undertakes a comparative examination of the two novels in order to demonstrate that terror and tragic optimism are their sustaining constructs. The study examines tragic optimism following Nietzsche’s notion of the universal instinct. In his theory of the Ubermensch, Nietzsche presents the figure of the overman who is able to shatter the rules of rationality that are often built on mediocrity,and set up new ones out of his own superabundant life and power. This figure views life as evolving to higher forms with the human instinct as the spear-point of this evolution. In tragedy, the Overman resembles the “titanically striving” individual wh o struggles because he must.

Tragic optimism as a Nietzschean notion that runs in opposition to Schopenhauerean pessimism, is thus about “saying ye s” to life in all its tragic realities, an idea that runs through The Plague and Season of Anomy. Using formalist-oriented critical approach, this research shows that in the heroes’ confrontation with the “more than man”, the universal instinct and cheerfulness which they possess as heroic beings enable them to face up to what had to be done. In the paradox underlying tragic suffering in the texts, not only does the research suggest that collective suffering creates the necessity for solidarity, it also concludes that for the tragic optimist, defiant struggle is uplifting.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of Study

Nietzsche’s theory of the Ubermensch (the Overman) shows that the superior individual, propelled by tragic optimism, struggles relentlessly and cheerfully in the face of terror, a notion that is also applicable to characters in literature. In Camus’s The Plague and Soyinka’s Season of Anomy, tragic optimism shows the hero’s defiant will to struggle in the face of terrible circumstances. Literary studies in general and tragedy in particular, grapple with this question of the impulse that propels the hero’s defiant will to struggle in the face of terror. To be sure, Aristotle in his theory of tragedy, provides the background for apprehending the hero as one who must show great courage in the face of adversity. This individual must be accounted to be “more than man” ( Oedipus the King, lines 29) in as much as the experience facing him is more than man. In a way, he connects to the figure that Nietzsche identifies as “a titanically striving individual who struggles because he must” ( The Birth of Tragedy 72) and who must affirm the invincibility of the human spirit in the midst of terrible circumstances.

According to Akwanya and Anohu, Nietzsche’s Superman “resembles the Aristotelian he ro in so far as he stands above mediocrity but differs from him in that the latter is already realized” (44). Thus in his theory of the Ubermench (the Overman or Superman ), Nietzsche proposes that the superior individual fights defiantly and cheerfully in the face of suffering (Human All Too Human 340). Nietzsche indicates that the universal instinct, which the Overman possessesenables him find freedom in struggle, and for this fact, he cannot refuse to struggle no matter the degree of terror that faces him. His striving therefore has more to do with tragic optimism than with the outcome, an idea that is also applicable to the heroic characters in Camus’s The Plague and Soyinka’s Season of Anomy.

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