The Fruitless Search Exposed in Camus’ The Plague
Amid the feverish horror of rampant sickness and death, The Plague is a parable of human remoteness and the struggle to share existence. In studying the relationships which Camus sets forth, the relationship between man and lover, mother and son, healer and diseased, it can be seen that the only relationship Camus describes is that between the exiled, and the kingdom for which he searches with tortured longing.
"Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile."(p.71). The first exile Camus writes is the physical exile of a diseased town from the world, and consequently, the exile of the town's people from the kingdom of everyday. The particular torture of this exile is memory; once expelled from a kingdom, the kingdom ceases to exist, living on only as "a memory that serves no purpose... ha[s] a savor only of regret."(p.73). Thus the townspeople are haunted by memories of their distant loved ones and their interrupted lives, creating islands of their own exile- an exile intensified by years of monotonous selfish habit. "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits."(p.4). The pea-counter is the ultimate representation of this exile; he is completely removed from the reality of man, measuring his life in the perpetual repetition of an absurd activity. Through the character of Rambert, Camus defines plague as precisely this selfish exile of habit, this doing "...the same thing over and over and over again..."(p.161).
Exile is further compounded by the desperation with which many of the characters fling themselves into the quest of trying to regain their personal remembered kingdoms. Rambert the visiting journalist is the ...
... middle of paper ...
...he reader that Rieux is Camus' hero. It is precisely this sense of "common decency" which sets him apart, renders him uncommon in a town of men exiled from eachother by selfishness. Rieux is not searching for anything, he is merely doing what has to be done to fight the plague. His will to see man healed has freed him from his own search, and thus from exile; no longer in exile, Rieux has found eternal kingdom.
For Camus tells us there is no kingdom but present humanity, though we spend lifetimes searching in isolation for assurance in a future or a past. And there is no exile except that which the selfish man imposes on himself. It is by giving up the fruitless search for the non-existent that man can ultimately free himself from exile, and gain the eternal kingdom of present.
Camus, Albert. The Plague. New York: Vintage International, 1995.