Socrates, a Greek philosopher, once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38b). Like Socrates, Albert Camus believed that a man needs to live meaningfully.
In his novel The Plague Camus creates characters who are forced to think, reflect, and assume responsibility for living as they battle an epidemic of bubonic plague that is ravaging the Algerian port of Oran. For ten months as the outbreak isolates the city from the rest of the world, each of the citizens reacts in a unique way. Camus’ main characters undergo both individual and social transformations.
Dr. Bernard Rieux, the narrator and central character, is one of the first people in Oran to recognize the plague and is instrumental in fighting it. The plague brings to a focus the best in him as he assumes responsibility for his fellow man and uses all of his talent and strength to fight tirelessly against the plague without concern for his own welfare. He realizes that the town will need to band together to fight against the disease: “The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical” (Camus 133).
Since Rieux does not believe in God or an afterlife, he accepts that the present is all that matters. He feels it is important for him to battle death in an effort to preserve life. Even though he acknowledges that man can never conquer death, he feels that his life has value when he helps others fight mortality.
As the plague ends, Rieux reaffirms the value of human love which makes happin...
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...way with the adjectives in his writing. He now seems happier, is able to move freely, and has “. . . a twinkle in his eye . . .” (Camus 306).
In The Plague Camus’ characters are forced to think, reflect, and assume responsibility for living. Their self-discovery and actions demonstrate that every man can give meaning to his life by doing good deeds for the welfare of others. In the case of the plague men have to work together and do away with indifference if they are to reach the common goal. One of the purposes of Dr. Rieux’s chronicle was “. . . to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise” (Camus 308). The plague has offered them a chance to give meaning back to their lives.
Camus, Albert. The Plague. New York: Vintage International, 1975.
Socrates. Apology 38b.
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