To know ourselves diseased is half our cure. - Alexander Pope
As the title clearly suggests, the novel The Plague is, indeed, a story of disease. On the surface, the novel The Plague, may be an accounting of facts detailing the outbreak of bubonic plague in the town of Oran. But on a deeper level, it is a novel that reveals awareness and acceptance of the limits of human existence. And it is also a reminder of our absurd freedom and the choices we make in life, especially when facing death.
In writing The Plague we are told that Camus "sought to convey [...] the feeling of suffocation from which we all suffered and the atmosphere of threat and exile in which we lived" (Bree, 1964:128). He was, of course, speaking of the horrors of World War II. But "at the same time [he wanted] to extend [his] interpretation to the notion of existence in general" (Bree, 1964:128).
Camus' interpretation of existence is revealed in his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus in which he discusses the absurd and its consequences, revolt, freedom and passion. Some interesting connections can be made between the philosophical discussion in The Myth of Sisyphus and the existential themes found in The Plague. In The Myth, Camus outlines his notion of the absurd and its consequences; in The Plague he brings his philosophy to life.
This tale of life and death is told by Dr. Rieux, who maintains that his "business is only to say 'this is what happened', when he knows that it actually did happen, [and] that it closely affected the life of a whole populace [...]" (Camus, The Plague, p.7). Of the novel, Germaine Bree says,
"considered in its totality [The Plague] transmits a personal experience ...
... middle of paper ...
..., one way or another, and The Plague is a reminder of that absurd fact.
The quote at the beginning of this paper, "To know ourselves diseased is half our cure" has its relevance in the ultimate lesson we learn from The Plague. But there is another lesson to be learned and Camus reminds us of it in The Myth of Sisyphus: "the point is to live" (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p.65). While facing the horrors of death, the characters in The Plague do an excellent job of bringing that philosophical point to life.
Bree, Germaine. (ed.), Camus: Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall: Englewood, NJ. 1962.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Camus, Albert, The Plague. Vintage: NY, 1991.
Ellison, David R. Understanding Albert Camus. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.
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