Essay on The Plague : An Influential Existentialist Novel

Essay on The Plague : An Influential Existentialist Novel

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Albert Camus’ The Plague is an influential existentialist novel that vividly depicts the impact of a plague have on a community. Set in the French Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s but based on the Black Plague that swept Europe in the Middle Ages, Camus draws on a large cast of character to portray and embody the historical impact that the plague on both the populace and society. Uniting the experiences of the various characters is Doctor Rieux, who play the role of a plague chronicler, and in the process demonstrates the impact of the plague on religion, social structures, and community morals.
Doctor Rieux plays the role of a plague chronicler to the plague in Oran. As a lead physician in the city, he is the first to see the coming of the plague though his research, and see its impact on the population first hand as he visits, diagnose, and quarantine each patient. He interacts with the authorities, priests, medical volunteers, travelers, and criminals as each one of them consults him on the progression of the plague and what is to be done about it. While the plague affects him on a very personal level, segregating him from his sick wife and killing off his friend Jean Tarrou, his occupation leads him to also experience its impact on all levels of society. At the end of his experience he vows “bear witness to those plague stricken people” by being the “chronicler of the troubled and rebellious hearts of [the] townspeople under the impact of the plague”. He also wants to “[record] what had had to be done” to combat the plague, including his discovery that there exists both the pneumonic and bubonic types of plague in Oran. In many ways he resembles the medieval physician and plague chronicler Guy de Chauliac, who, unlike hi...


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...bers of today’s world, perhaps we should also admire the medieval men and women who pulled though the numerous and recurring onslaughts of the plague. Far from being destroyed, medieval religion, social structure, and thinking was fundamentally transformed during this time to forms more recognizable and still remain relevant today; for example, the beginnings of capitalism, more diverse and inclusive forms of religion, and the enlightenment of scientific knowledge. Like the people of Oran, they changed and adapted to these new systems, and slowly rebuilt their society. As deadly and morbid as the plague was to the people, one can perhaps argue that it has made Europe change for the better. But no matter what the change is, one can always expect there to be chroniclers like Rieux and de Chauliac to be there to record its unfolding, and its profound impact on society.

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