Camus, Heller, and the Absurd Legal Novel

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Parris, Matthew
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University Honors College Middle Tennessee State University
This thesis takes a critical look at Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 as two works in a new proposed subgenre of literature: the absurd legal novel. The Stranger’s court system relies on an instinctual, subjective judgment of Meursault’s character in order to judge him and condemn him to death, while Catch-22’s military bureaucracy traps its airmen in cruel, meaningless cycles through verbal trickery and coercion. Both are both flawed institutions whose absurd practices are little more than dangerous exercises in power over others. The last chapter of this thesis examines real world instances of absurdity in law, such as qualified immunity and immigration law, and uses the absurd legal novel as a basis to theorize why these absurd policies exist in a legal system ostensibly based on order and rationality. Ultimately, the absurd legal novel can teach readers how to think critically about the nature of power: who holds it, how they use it, who it is used against, and perhaps most importantly, how it maintains itself.
College of Liberal Arts, Literature, Law, Albert Camus, Joseph Heller, Policy, Absurd