The Plague by Albert Camus: Novel Analysis
Albert Camus is a classic of French literature, his works are recognized as the finest examples of the genre. Camus considered himself an existentialist, like Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Thomas Stearns Eliot. Still, Camus’s prose differs due to his great optimism, and the lack of a tendency to romanticize or overdramatize things. The general mood of Camus’s novels closely compares to that of Erich Maria Remarque, and The Plague is the most striking example of this relationship. This paper argues that in The Plague Albert Camus deliberately celebrates the victory of life over death, despite the apparent gloominess and depressiveness of the events described.
Camus wrote a reflection novel that allowed several generations to rethink the experience of World War II. The spread of the plague in the town of Oran, Algeria, is generally regarded as a symbol of the ‘brown plague’ of fascism and the struggle of the European regime against this social disease. The plague symbolizes universal evil, as “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears, it can lie dormant for decades in furniture and linens, and perhaps the day would come when, for the sorrow and education of men, the plague would revive its rats and dispatch them to die in a happy city” (Camus 229). The protagonists of the novel go through a series of trials. Their pain, moral choice, and their presence in the lives of others are the threads from which the author creates an integral canvas of the novel.
The general optimism of the story is reflected in the character of the protagonist Dr. Rieux, whose passion for saving the lives of the Oranians amazes other citizens of the quarantined city. Dr. Rieux saves himself from the meaninglessness of pain and death through dedicated work. He believes that honest work is an excuse that gives meaning to life in the most difficult times. Dr. Rieux is the narrator and the central character of the novel. Jean Tarrou describes Rieux: “He walks fast. He steps off the curb without changing his pace, but two out of three times, he steps onto the opposite sidewalk with a little hop. He’s distracted at the wheel of his car. Always bareheaded. With a resigned air” (Camus 27). Rieux survives the plague, as do many Oranians, and witnesses the festive opening of Oran’s central gates through which the townspeople return.
The novel culmination is the height of the plague when it reaches a stable ceiling and the daily number of victims no longer increases. This deceptive stability is surprisingly reassuring to Oranians, although the numbers of weekly deaths are significant. At this point, the main idea of the novel is revealed, which implies that people deserve admiration rather than contempt. Despite the horror of a closely documented chronicle of the plague, the Oranians are not too frightened. To a much greater extent, they suffer from boredom caused by forced inaction and perceive the plague as an annoying circumstance that disrupts their normal ways of life, which is the main background for events. It is unlikely that Albert Camus wanted to add extra meaning to the novel. On the contrary, he described life as he saw it, including the insurmountable thirst for life inherent in man. This thirst is an element that allowed the species to evolve and survive through millennia of fear, death, and darkness.
The realism of the events described shock the reader and lead to their reflections on the meaning of life. “All that a man could win at the plague’s game, and at life’s, was knowledge and memory,” says Rieux after the death of Tarrou, who fell ill in the last days of the epidemic (Camus 215). It is unlikely that he easily survives this death, it rather makes Rieux even deafer to the pain that surrounds him. He must survive and help others survive, and this goal justifies and makes sense. Rieux feels the absurdity of mere survival, saying that “It must be said that the plague had taken away from everyone the possibility of love and even the possibility of friendship. For love requires a little bit of future, and we had only a few moments left” (Camus 136). Throughout the story, the townspeople eventually adjust to the realities of the plague, and life goes on, no matter what.
In general, the novel is life-affirming, because, despite the understanding that universal evil is invincible, the protagonists do not become apathetic and inactive. They are ready to fight evil selflessly to become part of something bigger – the society or the city where they live. This approach is well illustrated in the storyline of Tarrou, who finally begins to feel at home in Oran after joining the medical team, and in the story of journalist Rambert, who decides not to flee the city but to stay and help Rieux.
Thus, it was argued how Albert Camus’ The Plague describes the victory of life over death. The novel is a classic example of existential literature, as the events are presented in a documentary and philosophical style. The narrator, who is also the main character of the novel, expresses the author’s attitude to the horrifying and tragic events that the characters experience. The protagonists believe in the justification of the struggle, even if the enemy cannot be defeated. Equally important, dedicating oneself to something greater, such as saving people, allows the heroes to overcome depression and resist the plague.
Camus, Albert. Plague. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2021.