Brilliant though the short novel The Outsider is (and for that matter The Fall too), in my view this is Albert Camus' masterpiece in which he really expands and expounds at greater length his view of the human condition, how to live with and overcome the Absurd and find meaning in purely human terms. This is a beautifully written (though sometimes a little horrifying given the nature of the threat) novel in which the narrative depth and breadth of vision approach that of Joseph Conrad at his best, which for me is a high a recommendation as you can get. The characters are believable and you grow to really care about them as together they fight the plague. It's also quite a page turner at times. In short, this is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
I read 'The Plague' and 'The Outsider' twenty years ago. I did not enjoy them as much as I expected. Maybe I was young and dumb. A bit older and wiser now, i can safely say 'The Plague' is an important, thought-provoking book. “The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer's soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.” ― Albert Camus, The Plague
“But it's not easy. I've been thinking it over for years. While we loved each other we didn't need words to make ourselves understood. But people don't love forever. A time came when I should have found the words to keep her with me, only I couldn't.” ― Albert Camus, The Plague
It's a thought-provoking book. It made me think more about how we live and how we die. The subject matter isn't very cheerful (the clue's in the title!), but I didn't find it very depressing. On the contrary, it's a satisfying story of humanity: most people are good.
Albert Camus's allegorical tale of a community cut off from the outside world is a work of aching compassion for the human condition. The small Algerian town of Oran is overwhelmed by a catastrophic outbreak of bubonic plague which forces the authorities to isolate and quarantine its population. As the death toll rises, doctor and humanitarian Bernard Rieux, together with volunteers, does his best for the cause of human life within the limits of modern medicine. This is a story about human beings under siege where death threatens all equally, about their reactions and their different means of dealing with isolation from friends, family and love, of maintaining daily routine in the face of constant, debilitating fear. How do people react under trauma? Why do some individuals grasp for dear life at the piece of driftwood in the ocean after their boat has capsized while others let go meekly straight away and drift into oblivion? In The Plague we see all; those who cope and those who don't, those who sacrifice and those who exploit. It is an existential tale of humanity in all its diversity and demonstrates why social justice can never be realised in a Godless world wracked by arbitrary biological injustice. Written just after the end of Nazi occupation of France The Plague can be read as an allegory of that occupation but equally of the Holocaust or the Siege of Leningrad. Beautiful, powerful and profoundly moving, this is European literature on a different level.
In short, a city is subject to plague and isolates itself resulting in many reactions among its populace both to the isolation and the random unpredictable injustice of the disease, but through it all groups of diverse people band together to fight on despite the fact that, as one character notes, "victories will never be lasting".
We readers meet a fascinating 'cast' of characters who reveal ever more about themselves, and in reflection about ourselves, under the pressures of the plague. From the admirable and compelling characters of Rieux and Tarrou, the transformation of Rambert, to the pitiful character of Cottard and the various other characters we see a broad spectrum of people that on the whole reminds us that there is more to admire about humanity than to dislike.
It is this pulling together in the face of an unpredictable adversary that underlined, for me, the "take home" lesson of the novel. Never sure of any final victory against nor escape from the plague most people choose to fight it anyway, to work together rather than against each other.
There is much written about The Plague as an allegory relating to the occupation of France in WW2 and of the symbolism. Many will read it because they are to do so as part of a literature course but I would recommend it anyway - it reads well and is thought provoking and interesting, well written (well translated anyway!) and if you don't know the outcomes then it does make one want to find out what happens to the various characters.
A great book indeed and one I am very glad I have read!
Camus’ ‘The Plague’ is one of his definitive absurdist statements, simply stated and beautifully constructed. The main question of Camus’ philosophy was, in an atheistic world, in which there is no afterlife, can there be any sensible way of deciding how to live our lives, knowing all the while that they will inevitably end in death? Central to this is an awareness of the proximity of death. It is this idea that ‘The Plague’ plays with so brilliantly. At the time of publication, Europe was just emerging from WWII, and France from Nazi occupation, both of which had brought the reality of death much closer. ‘The Plague’ is set on the town of Oran, Algeria. The first signs of plague are when the rats emerge onto the streets and begin dying in large numbers. Throughout the book, the threat of plague becomes more real, starting as a mere idea, then as an ignorable threat, then a pandemic which eventually causes a state of emergency and finally as an enemy to be battled. Through this device, Camus’ is able to examine the behaviour of the townspeople as the threat of death becomes ever closer. In particular, he focuses on a small group of men and their interaction with the plague. There is the doctor fighting the plague (Rieux), the gangster on the run who welcomes it (Cottard), the priest (Paneloux), the reformed terrorist (Tarrou), among others, All of which serve to illustrate the variety of human responses to death. ‘The Plague’ is, for me, one of three great Absurdist works by Camus (‘The Outsider’ and ‘Exile and the Kingdom’ being the others). Of the three it is probably my least favourite, because Camus’ dry prose doesn’t especially lend itself to longer books. Nevertheless, it is a classic work of philosophy rendered into literature. It makes its point clearly and plainly, without preaching or feeling the need to illustrate its point with long monologues. A great book and a definitive twentieth century work.
This book isn't overly engaging, it is somewhat shocking at times, and its prose is probably too dry. Despite that, I highly recommend it to you... Why?. Well, the reason is simple. The plot of "The Plague" is merely a way of understanding something that has to do with our everyday life, and the way we live it. Succinctly, the story begins when a plague strikes the North-African town of Oran. People at first try to ignore the clues that show that something bad is happening. When they cannot help but recognize that things are seriously wrong, a quarantine is declared. For those inside the walls of Oran, reality changes: death is omnipresent, and loneliness and despair, feelings they must confront. Different people react in diverse ways to the same reality, and we get to know about them through the narrator of this book, that also happens to be one of the protagonists. The real question that most of the persons in Oran ask themselves sooner or later is whether is it worthwhile to fight against the plague, when the outcome in that unfair war is almost certain death... I won't give you the answers they find, if any. For that, you need to read the book... However, I can tell you Albert Camus' opinion. Camus (1913-1960) thought that it is in the fighting against evil that mankind finds its greatness (and maybe justification, who knows), even if we face what might seem at first sight a desperate situation. In a way, I think that for Camus the plague was in this case an allegory of evil, and our attitude against it. That evil changes faces, but always reappears, and it is again time to make choices, and decide what kind of attitude we will take. It is only in the right decisions that we will find the meaning we were searching for. Again, recommended...
The Plague is easily one of the best ten novels ever written, far surpassing even the erstwhile classic The Stranger. Whereas we examine an uncommonly cold-hearted man in a normal world in the pages of The Stranger, in this novel it is a harsh outside world which closes in on a group of fascinating characters. It is in this much more developed context that Camus' most remarkale notions of humanity, life, and existence can be fleshed out and communicated more effectively. The lessons of good, normal lives in a world gone mad are much more instructive and meaningful than the observations in The Stranger of a man gone mad in a normal world. A word to the wise: when large numbers of rats come out of the woodwork and commence dying nasty, bloody deaths in the streets and houses, public health is in danger. In the port city of Oran, the population ignores the signs of danger and only grudgingly admits that an epidemic, a form of the bubonic plague to be exact, has taken root in their city. The protagonist, Dr. Rieux, is a doctor who finally helps convince the authorities to take extreme measures in the interest of public safety and to eventually close the gates to town. Over the course of the novel, we get to observe the manner in which Dr. Rieux, his companions, and prominent men of the community react to the worsening plague and its social consequences. Dr. Rieux has just sent his unhealthy wife off to a sanitarium before the plague breaks out, and he must suffer her absence alongside the stresses of working 20+ hours a day trying to save people's lives while accomplishing little more than watching them die horrible deaths. Dr. Rieux's attempts to make sense of everything is a basic pulse of the story; an atheist, he cannot find happiness even in the plague's departure, determining that he did what he had to do in fighting the disease with all his might, yet remembering the deaths of so many friends and strangers and knowing that the pestilence could come back at any time. His friend Tarrou supplies much of the knowledge we glean about the reactions of society as a whole as month after month of isolation continues in the face of death's greedy fingers. His journal records small but important facts about all manners of men, yet he himself cannot be said to find ultimate peace. We first encounter M. Cottard after he has hanged himself and been saved before death. A criminal type yet not a bad man, his initial worries over inquiries into his suicide attempt fade away as the plague's grip on Oran tightens. He emerges from a self-imposed exile to actually become a communicating member of society; he alone seems to enjoy the plague because it makes everyone else like him, forced to live each day with the fear of a brooding, horrible fate. Then there is M. Grande, one of my favorite characters in all of literature. A simple civil service employee, he devotes himself to volunteer work computing plague statistics and the like while still continuing his fervent efforts at writing a novel. Grande's wife left him years earlier because he got too wrapped up in his work and lost the words to communicate his love for her; he began writing a novel in an attempt to find those words. With great devotion and commitment he works on his writing, determined to produce a perfectly crafted novel, one where each word is meaningful and necessary for the story--in short, one that will inspire the future publisher to introduce it to his publishing house cohorts with the phrase, "Hats off, gentlemen." After untold months of dedicated effort, Grande has yet to get the first sentence to sound exactly right; he engages all of his efforts into perfecting this one sentence, sure that the rest of the novel will fall into place after it is perfected. These main characters are all fascinating character studies. Not all of them live to see the plague's end, but each of them struggles to find meaning in his own experience. One character continues living because that is what is required of human beings, to go on fighting for life in a meaningless world; one man seeks to become a saint of sorts by helping his fellow man fight the pestilence; another finds life after the plague to be unbearable, etc. The overriding message I was left with at the end is that life is worth living despite the arbitrary cruelties of an unforgiving world because there is more good in man than there is evil. I found that the book delivered in fact a rather darkly uplifting celebration of the human spirit; one's loved ones give life its meaning in a hostile world. The Plague succeeds in ways The Stranger never can because the characters in this novel are utterly human and represent diverse aspects of the lives of each of us.