In his novel The Plague, Albert Camus presents a pseudo-historical documentary of a plague that confines and controls the citizens of Oran within their city gates. The plague possesses the power of life and death over the people, as it determines which citizens will face their death or those who work to stop death. These latter men, personified by the character's of Rieux, Grand, and Tarrau, each struggle endlessly to master the plague's power over their lives, even with the realization they may never succeed. For Camus, this idea of "impossible struggle" against an unseen power resonates throughout the novel and reoccurs in another "plague" which these men must contend - the limits of human language. Camus's characters place great emphasis and importance upon the power of language and lament their inability to express themselves clearly. As a result, Camus establishes that human language, like the plague, possesses an elusive power in determining the lives of these men even as they struggle to master and control it. Camus demonstrate this first through his description of Rieux's struggle to choose words carefully as he recognizes their power to both define and control his work. Next Camus establishes the power of words in his comical yet poignant portrayal of Grand, whose inability to "find the right words" stifles and confines both his work and his marriage (p.42). Lastly, Camus elaborates upon this power of words through the actions of Tarrau who directly links the misuse of words with the power to kill.
For Dr. Bernard Rieux, the use of human language will eventually help define his work. Therefore he struggles to choose his words carefully. When being asked to describe the mysteri...
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...termine events in human life even when the speaker works to prevent this. Thus, he establishes once again the power of language over people who can be conscious of language's power but never completely control this power in human life.
Through his portrayal of Rieux, Grand, And Tarrau, Camus depicts the power of language as each attempt to master and are mastered by it. In doing so Camus pays tribute to language and makes The Plague a commentary on the artistic process, as Camus himself struggles with language in his career as a writer. Thus Camus's novel also serves as a fable of the written word, as writer's must struggle to master the language in their writings. For Camus, the moral of the story warns the reader to be careful when choosing his words as each has potential power to control lives.
Camus, Albert, The Plague. Vintage: NY, 1991.
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