The Plague

May. 4th, 2015 10:14 pm
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Albert Camus- The Plague

As it happens, I respect Albert Camus more than his countryman Sartre. So I have tried to read more of his novels. They are not light reading at all - and subject matter of The Plague is actually even more serious than the disease the story seems to describe.

The story tells about ficticious plague in the real-life city of Oran in French Algeria. However, the location does not matter that much – this Oran is interchangeable with just about any other city and Algerians are not even mentioned (even if in real life Camus was supportive of them).

Camus uses the plague as an analogy of rise of fascism and Nazi occupation of France. First the problem is belittled and denied. The authorities eventually decide to deal with the disease by quarantine and forming groups of volunteers. When the death toll rises, locals can barely contain the situation. Some of the dead are transported outside the town by train to crematoriums. Local government backpedals and tries to shift responsbility when the local priest tries to turn everyone towards God claiming that the plague is a divine punishment for (unspecified) sins. Profiteers begin to make money when their other dealings are forgotten in the crisis. Some try to commit suicide (which was a crime at the time in real life).

The point of view is centered on couple of men, one of them a visitor Raymond Rambert who cannot now get out of the city due to quarantine and ends up helping the locals. Another one, city doctor Bernard Rieux, has to face the suffering of his patients first hand when he tries to find a cure. From the writer's point of view one interesting character is Joseph Grand, wannabe author who is stuck to writing and rewriting the first sentence of the novel he is planning to write. These three can be seen as aspects of Camus himself and one of them is eventually revealed as a sort of a narrator.

The story essentially follows Camus' ideas of existentialism (term he disliked) and absurdism. Characters have little control over the circumstances, trying to both deal with the disease and merely survive the plague. Rambert tries to flee the city but ultimately fails. Young boy dies painfully despite of all the efforts of Rieux.

Knowing that Camus himself was part of the French Resistance (he wrote for underground magazines to counter German propaganda), I find it interesting that he seems to compare himself to a doctor, visitor and struggling writer.
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