Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus is not simply a re-telling of the myth itself, but also an interpretation of the way in which the myth can be related to the life of humanity in general, and in particular to one's understanding and acceptance of the futility of life, which he does not consider to be negative per se. He looks at the nature of Sisyphus' character, the way in which he challenged and defied the gods, and the punishment he received as a result. However, he does not look at Sisyphus' fate as something which defines the gods as victorious and Sisyphus as subjugated to their will, primarily because of the way in which Sisyphus himself perceives his condition.
He begins by giving a brief account of the life of Sisyphus and the reasons why he was punished by the gods, which delineates the events, and the particular elements of Sisyphus' character, which have combined to bring him to his current fate, undergoing an endless punishment in the underworld. He has, during his life, been independent and passionate, issuing challenges to the gods and defying them on a number of occasions, which has led to their eventual enactment of his punishment.
For example, on finding himself in the underworld as a result, ironically, of his wife's obeying his last instructions, he requests that he be allowed to return to the world of the living in order to chastise her. However, once safely away from the underworld, he refuses to return despite `recalls, signs of anger and warnings'. It is evident that he is an intelligent and forceful individual, who realises that his defiance of the gods cannot continue forever, but he is prepared to take the risk, partly to enjoy `the face of the world' for a while longer and partly to prove that he can, for a while at least, outwit the gods. It is, of course, a matter of pride amongst the gods that a mere human cannot defeat them, either by strength or trickery, and therefore they are, by their own natures, obliged to find ways to gain revenge on Sisyphus for his audacity.
Sisyphus is successful in spending some time in the land of the living, and evading the wrath of the gods, but eventually, the courier of the gods, Mercury, forces him to return and his punishment is decided. He is condemned to roll a heavy rock uphill for all eternity, and each time he reaches the top of the slope, the rock rolls back down again and he is obliged to start all over again. The punishment is, as Camus says, `that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing'. Since it is in human nature to expect success as a result of effort and hard work, to be obliged to carry out the effort knowing that there will be no reward, no achievement, is a harsh punishment indeed.
Sisyphus has no choice but to continue pushing the rock uphill, watching...