Description

The Plague was written by Albert Camus (1913–1960). He was a journalist, editor and editorialist, playwright and director, novelist and author of short stories, political essayist, and activist — and, although he more than once denied it, a philosopher. Albert Camus articulated a critique of religion and of the Enlightenment and all its projects, including Marxism. In 1957 he won the Nobel Prize for literature, the youngest person to do so. He died in a car accident in January 1960, at the age of 46.

[From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]


Review

The Plague is a haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus’ iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of 20th century literature.

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation, and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resigned themselves to fate, some seek summer, and a few like doctor Rieux remain steadfast and even heroic.

An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, the plague is in part an allegory of French suffering under the Nazi occupation and a timeless story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence.

[From Amazon Books]


Study Questions

(If you want to make a comment about this book, please scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page.)

1. After reading the book, do you see any parallels comparing your feeling after four plus months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

2. Was there a hero in the book?

3. Was there a villain in the book?

4. How effective were the authorities of Oran in responding to events?

5. When did you first suspect Dr. Rieux was the narrator?

6. Would you rather have an earthquake than COVID-19 (of course you would like neither)?

7. What was the significance of Tarrou and Rieux going for a swim?

8. How would you characterize Dr. Rieux’s mother?

9. Did you enjoy reading the book or was it “taking medicine”?


Discussion

The plague is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium. Symptoms include fever, weakness, and headache. In the bubonic form there is also swelling of lymph nodes, and in the pneumonic form shortness of breath, cough and chest pain occur. Both forms can overwhelm the systems and cause death. It has historically occurred in large outbreaks with the best known being in the 14th century, the black plague which resulted in more than 50 million deaths.

This is the setting for The Plague by Albert Camus. He uses this event as the backdrop or “canvas” to describe the behavior of a cast of characters who are dealing with a terrifying event that grips their city. This is a mid-sized community that is considered self-contained and behind a wall. This wall keeps unwitting visitors from coming in to be infected. It also keeps in the inhabitants making it impossible for them to escape.

The book seems to say life is relative to your circumstances. The town wall defines the universe that keeps people on the outside from getting in and becoming infected, but it also stops those inside from fleeing the town and the ever-increasing danger of infection. The “Haves” are on the outside and the “have nots are within”. The essence is that those inside are involved in a relative pandemic. Everyone is in the same boat.

The prescience of the book is apparent to us now in 2020 as the world is experiencing its first pandemic in a century. The events as they are occurring in the book are a striking microcosm of what can happen in an event as dire as a pandemic. In the book the walled city is the universe and the population is just that, the population – all there is.

The clear hero is the doctor who surprisingly for most turned out to be the narrator who hid his role as he hoped to be thought of as objective. The other characters line up as you would expect. They included the profiteer, the rule following guards who were willing to look the other way for profit and the newspaper man who is trapped in the town. He makes elaborate plans to escape but it becomes clear he does not have his heart in it. He ultimately decides to stay and play a heroic role. Other characters display a variety of responses some noble and others not. It is apparent that some seek solace in faith, but this seems to come up short. The doctor’s mother, who is older, is philosophical and totally indifferent to the dire implications.
A special role is reserved for the government. It is slow to respond at first possibly not wanting to feed panic. The population pays a price for this delay. Then no matter what they do it is considered too little and too late. In a way the government is the fall guy.

The parallel between the world of Camus and today is eerily similar. The book is a good read but anything but uplifting.

By Gene Helveston

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