Camus - The Plague - discussion

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Camus - The Plague - discussion

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Dez 3, 2012, 9:33am

For discussion of Camus's 1947 novel The Plague.

Maio 25, 2013, 4:37am

The Plague by Albert Camus
What would happen to a town turned in on itself: a town whose gates were locked to the outside world, a town that was a pariah to the rest of humanity, a town that must fight alone against a pestilence that threatened to consume all of it's citizens. This scenario was not an unusual occurrence in the fourteenth century at the time of the Black death, but Camus has transposed this idea to the twentieth century and asked the question how would modern man cope when his very existence was threatened on a daily basis. Camus answer was that humanity would fight back against a situation that was both absurd and terrifying. A band of hero's would emerge doing nothing more heroic than carrying out their tasks to the best of their ability, organising and working to the point of exhaustion to save the town and the lives of their fellow men. Camus overriding message in this remarkable novel is that the world (mans absurd human condition) cannot be transformed, but it can be resisted.

The setting for the novel is the town of Oran on the Algerian coast, a town that Camus knew well and a place that he did not like. In his novel the outbreak of plague is preceded by an inundation of rats, these rodents seem to erupt from the pavements, drains, and foundations of the houses to die in the public places, the authorities are at a loss to know what to do but the deaths of these rodents seem to solve the problem and the townsfolk can get on with what they do best: making money from their commercial enterprises. Soon the first cases of plague are reported, but again the authorities are loathe to introduce measures that will disrupt their commercial life: it is only when the daily death count reaches thirty that they decide to act and a state of siege is declared. Without warning the town gates are closed, nobody is allowed in or out and the army set up camp to impose these measures. The citizens of the town are trapped as are all visitors, there is no communication with the outside world apart from the telegram system. The town and its people are on their own. It is from this imposed isolation that the inhabitants suffer most, and Camus focuses on a group of men who suffer this isolation most keenly either because their loved ones are separated from them in the outside world or because they themselves were trapped alone in the town when the gates were closed. These men band together to revolt against the pestilence and they fight with all means at their disposal. Dr Bernard Rieux is central to all that takes place working to the point of exhaustion to alleviate the suffering of the plague victims and fighting an uphill battle against it's spread. It is Jean Tarrou an older man who had just recently come to settle in Oran who along with Dr Rieux's assistance organises the volunteer groups who will put themselves out amongst the victims in the firing line of the plague. They are helped eventually by Raymond Rambert who is working clandestinely to escape from the town, but when he eventually gets a chance to leave chooses to stay and fight and then they are joined by Father Paneloux a Jesuit who had preached a sermon at the start of the plague whose theme was that it was Gods vengeance on a community who were deserving of everything that they were suffering. Perhaps the real hero however is Joseph Grand a minor clerk in the City Hall, who is writing a novel in his spare time and is the epitome of a man quietly working for the common good.

The novel was published in 1947 and was greeted by the critics as an allegory of the Nazi's occupation of Paris in the second world war and while certain pointers in the novel lead the reader in this direction I think it is misleading to read The Plague in this way. The Plague is not the Nazi's but it could be an allegory for any dogma that entraps people and obstructs their ability to act as human beings. Camus message is that we must revolt against any such imposition and it is up to the individual to revolt, usually outside of official channels, but on no account should that revolt lead to the death of our fellow men. Many of the characters in the band of volunteers seem to be endorsing Camus philosophy and it is intriguing to wonder as to which of them Camus identified with most, perhaps all of them. It would be wrong however to paint this novel as some obscure allegory or philosophical tract, because there is a real feel for the characters and the town of Oran. Camus writes superbly and we care about the characters although in typical modernist fashion we feel just a step away from them, as emotions are kept in check and it is only on rare occasions we get an insight as to their inner thoughts. The descriptions of the town under siege are atmospheric as is the effect of the weather which again is a key feature of this novel. Camus also does not spare the reader the vicissitudes of the effects of the plague on individuals: the deaths of the Mayors young son and also of one of the leading characters is full of horror and poignancy. Again as in his first novel L'estranger the reader is left with a text in where hardly a word seems out of place and one which can be read on many levels.

Having read more of Camus recently I am struck by this authors love of his fellow man. It is love that must in the end lead us to a life that is fulfilling. Camus idea that we are all alone in an unfeeling universe and that the absurd (death) can strike us at any moment is almost too much too bear if we do not have the capacity for love.

"Tears were running in a steady stream down the old Civil Servant's face. And these tears were devastating to Rieux because he understood them and he also felt a lump in the back of his throat. He too recalled the unfortunate man's engagement, in front of a shop, at Christmastime, and Jeanne leaning towards him to say how happy she was. From the depths of years long past, in the very heart of this madness, Jeanne's fresh face was speaking to Grand, that was sure. Rieux knew what the old man was thinking at that moment as he wept and he thought the same: that this world without love was like a dead world and that there always comes a time when one becomes tired of prisons, work and courage, and yearns for the face of another human being and the wondering affectionate heart."

Camus manages to pull off these moments with real pathos when his characters exhausted by their work and their stoicism are able to reach out to each other. The moments are few but all the more effective for that.

This novel is a magnificent achievement and will lend itself to many re-reads. Themes of separation, exile, revolt and love are bound inextricably into a story that plays itself out in its own very modernist world. A five star read.

Jun 13, 2013, 1:11am

The Plague strikes me as a response to The Stranger. From the individual to the community, from insensitivity to love. Great review.

Editado: Ago 23, 2013, 7:49pm

I have not yet read The Plague, but in July I read the autobiography by Norman Lewis, I came, I saw. An autobiography.

During World War II Lewis was stationed in Algeria, and wrote the following about the atmosphere there and the attitude of Algerians toward the French.

Having learnt Arabic during and after the trip to Aden, Lewis was stationed in Algeria during the largest part of the war. He described Algeria, particularly Philipsville {sic!} (Philippeville, now Skikda) as a thoughrouly decadent city in the 1940s, with a strong resentment in the local population against the French colonial rulers. Thus, Lewis sketches Algeria as follows: "This was a country where ripe fruit hung for the picking on every tree and if a man wanted a woman there was always an unpaid Arab girl around about the house to be pulled into a quiet corner. The Algerian had grown to expect the instant satisfaction of his slightest desire."

Perhaps the resentment against the French or the general malaise of the utter lewdness and decadence in Algeria are motives which filtered into the theme of Camus' novel.

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