Someone who is absurd is wildly illogical or inappropriate; ridiculous (Oxford English Dictionary). When we think of someone who is absurd we think of someone who would do things that we would think would be illogical . An absurd hero is someone who exemplifies the characteristics of a hero, but punishes them self by achieving acts that we would deem useless. Albert Camus states that his view of an absurd hero, through the example of the Myth of Sisyphus, is that their passion for life win [them the] unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted into accomplishing nothing. Although it may seem to them that they accomplish nothing they do pave the way for people after them to finish. In both The Mission and A Man For All Seasons, written by Robert Bolt we see characters who struggle for a cause, but in their lifetime they achieve nothing. They also struggle for this cause in ways that would seem absurd. Although they made no changes in the time they were alive they did set the way for changes and this gives them a heroic quality. In both pieces by Robert Bolt the characters, Gabriel from The Mission and Thomas More from A Man For All Seasons are absurd heroes.
Both characters use their conscience to make decisions that appear heroic, yet have absurd undertones. In The Mission, Father Gabriel, a Jesuit missionary, comes to convert the noble natives of eighteenth century South America. He Lives with them and takes the same risks as they do. Gabriel has made the conscious effort to dedicate his life to these people, converting them and defending them from the corrupt Europeans who want to turn them into slaves. This clothes Gabriel with his heroic quality. Gabriel makes his decisions based on his conscience so that he feels good. He sees that putting his all to converting and defending this tribe would ease his conscience. Like Sisyphus, who was condemned to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back on its own weight (The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus pg. 350), Gabriel is conscious of the limit of his own misery. Thomas More, in A Man For All Seasons, is very conscious about every decision that he makes concerning issues. We see that he is loved by all and the people he knows count themselves as, friend[s] of Sir Thomas (Bolt pg. 3). He also has is very sure of his decisions. Bolt writes of him that, Thomas More, as I wrote about him, became for me a man with an adamantine sense of his own self (Bolt pg. xii). These two qualities give him a heroic feel, yet we see that in the end he is willing to give up his life when he could have saved it. This is what makes him an absurd hero.
To the people they meet, they seem heroic, but to us they seem absurd because we wonder why they are like no other. Father Gabriel in The Mission is portrayed as an absurd hero from the beginning when we see how the Indians accept him. At first we see the hostile Indians sending another priest to his death strapped to a cross that is pushed over a waterfall. When Gabriel encounters the Indians we see that he should be sentenced to his death like the prior priest, but he has a heroic innocence and bravery that he can build a trust with the natives. Gabriel calmly plays his recorder in the midst of the encountering Indians, but instead of killing him they accept him.We see that he was heroic and could have seduced a nation with his instrument (Narrator, The Mission). We see this as absurd, because we wonder what makes Gabriel so special that him of all people could convert the seemingly violent tribe. Gabriel had to be prepared to accept his demise if he was not accepted and accomplished nothing, but this as Camus states, is the price that must be paid for the passions of the earth. Rodriguez Mendoza, a man who kills his brother in a fight over the love of the same women, pays penance by serving time at the community. Mendoza looks up to Gabriel as his own father and attains some of the same heroic qualities. Mendoza is attracted to him even though, Gabrial seems foolish by given up his life for the community and putting his life endanger. This shows how Gabriel is a man to look up to despite his absurd ways. In A Man For All Seasons, people envy Thomas More because he is so morally right and sticks to his conscience. King Henry, who is trying to get divorced from his wife, Catherine, seeks the moral advice of Thomas. Thomas wonders why he seeks his advice, and he replies, because your honest. What s more to the purpose, your known to be honest … There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, and there are those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I am their lion, and there is a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves – and there is you. (Bolt pg. 32) We see that More is someone to look up to with heroic qualities, yet why should we does this when he is not like anyone else. This is what makes him seem more absurd.
The most absurd part about these heroic characters is that they lose their life for what they believe. Gabriel exerts all of his effort to getting this tribe converted and safe, but he introduces it to the European government that wants to turn the people into slaves. The slave traders begin to attack the tribe and kill them. Gabriel is killed in the final scenes of the massacre. This makes it absurd that all of his efforts made toward the tribe are all in vain. The narrator speaks of the deaths at the end of the movie, Now the priests are dead, and I am left alive, where in fact I am dead and they live on, and the spirit of dead remains alive in the living . In A Man For All Seasons , Thomas More sticks to decisions toward the divorce of the King no matter if it comes to death. This was a conscious decision that he had made and if he were to go against it would ruin his conscience. Just before Thomas is going to be sentenced to the death punishment his wife brings up a logical point that he told her, God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth. (Bolt pg. 83) We see that Thomas More could have got out of being put to death by swearing to the Act of Succession, and not believing it in his heart, words that he has told his wife. He instead goes with his conscience and doesn t swear. This to us show that he is heroic by having such a strong conscience, but absurd that he could have got out of being put to death if he practiced what he told other people. We see that in both cases they seemed to of had there efforts end up in vain, and in the Myth of Sisyphus the gods thought that their was, no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor (Camus 350).
Both Gabriel from The Mission, and Thomas More from A Man For All Seasons both end their life as absurd heroes. They both make conscious heroic decisions in absurd ways. To the people around them they appear like heroes, but us who can see all sides see them as absurd. The most absurd part about their lives is that they exert all their efforts to changing nothing in their time and they end up dying. Albert Camus uses The Myth of Sisyphus, to illustrate how the absurd hero works, [A] passion for life win [the] unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted into accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. (Camus pg. 351)