Existence Precedes Essence

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Dead rats filled the streets of Oran in the beginning of Albert Camus’ novel The Plague. The plague was rapidly spreading throughout Oran, despite the town’s effort to constrain it. Oran was soon quarantined, letting no one in and no one out. Dr. Rieux, a local physician, organizes a team of volunteers to fight the plague. The team plans to control sanitation and properly transport infected individuals to Dr. Rieux’s hospital. The character qualities of Dr. Rieux and his team of volunteers throughout the novel are consistent with Jean-Paul Sartre’s characteristics of an existentialist. Camus’ The Plague is an acceptable exemplifier of Sartre’s existentialism because of the situation the characters face. With the town of Oran quarantined, all humans face the same destiny regardless of social class, religion, or race; that destiny is death. Cottard likes the plague because he feels everyone is connected [QUOTE.] By fighting against the progress of the plague, Dr. Rieux and his team of volunteers are essentially declaring a war against death. In doing so they are given the opportunity to make choices that define their character. This is a strong existential theme. Sartre believes QUOTE each person has the power to create themselves. In other words, the essence of a human is not definite. Simply making different choices can redefine the person you are. Sartre calls these people who understand this ability to start making a different kind of choice brave. QUOTE Dr. Rieux, by Sartre’s definition, is an existentialist capable of making these decisions. Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism is one governed by the philosophy that existence precedes essence. This idea is evident in the characters of Dr. Rieux and Rambert, the ... ... middle of paper ... ...ttard has the essence of a criminal and feels the need to conform to that essence, contrasting with the philosophy of Sartre on changing decisions to change one’s essence. Tarrou, known for having a soft spot for criminals by his resentment towards his father’s profession as a prosecutor, sees Mr. Cottard as more than just a criminal. By introducing Mr. Cottard after his attempted suicide, Camus gives his readers the opportunity to understand Mr. Cottard as Tarrou does. Tarrou understands Mr. Cottard for his true self, a man who is alone and suffering, evident by his suicide attempt. Without Tarrou’s lack of judgement, the reader would not have known Mr. Cottard to be anything more than a criminal. Tarrou builds a friendship and converses with Mr. Cottard, revealing to the reader the real Mr. Cottard, rather than a man who fits the social role as a criminal.
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