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The Plague by Albert Camus (Independent Novel Project)
Transcript of The Plague by Albert Camus (Independent Novel Project)
Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a representative of non-metropolitan French literature. His origin in Algeria and his experiences there in the thirties were dominating influences in his thought and work. Of semi-proletarian parents, early attached to intellectual circles of strongly revolutionary tendencies, with a deep interest in philosophy, he moved to France at the age of twenty-five. He was later a winner of the noble prize for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness, he illuminated the problems of the human conscience in our times. His writing structure created discriptive sentences that allow his readers to experience his works as if they were first hand experiences. Overall, He was a stylist of great purity and intense concentration and rationality. The novel is believed to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage of Oran's population in 1849 following French colonization, but the novel is placed in the 1940s. Oran and its environs were struck by disease multiple times before Camus published this novel. According to a research report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oran was decimated by the plague in 1556 and 1678, but outbreaks after European colonization, in 1921 (185 cases), 1931 (76 cases), and 1944 (95 cases), were very far from the scale of the epidemic described in the novel. The Plague is considered an existentialist classic despite Camus' objection to the label. The narrative tone is similar to Kafka's, especially in The Trial (another one of Camus’ works), wherein individual sentences potentially have multiple meanings. The novel has been read as a metaphorical treatment of the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. Historical Context Theis Statement:
When the human condition is immensely challenged, negative outcomes are inevitable, regardless of social class and cohesion. Timeline & Analysis/Impacts:
• Section 1 – With the outbreak of the plague initiating its first few hits on the city of Oran, the government is approaching the situation slowly. The unknown narrator describes their method as “dragging their feet” and “sitting and waiting” until something detrimental occurs. Dr. Rieux carries a significant amount of importance in the wellbeing of the early victims of this outbreak.
• Section 2 – At this point the outbreak is in full force, and the death toll is climbing higher and higher. People are becoming hysterical, and are beginning to look toward religion for help. The Father Paneloux delievers a sermon about the epidemic being God’s way of punishing the city for their sins. The irony in Paneloux's sermon is that death is an irrefutable fact of human existence. He states that no human science can save a doomed victim of the plague. In truth, no human science can save any person from death of any sort. There is nothing that makes a plague death more meaningful than any other death. Camus implies that death is senseless no matter how it happens. Before the plague, the citizens of Oran were doing little more than waiting for death, passively entertaining themselves as their lives slipped through their fingers.
• Section 3 – The outbreak declines and partial freedom is restore to the people of Oran. The characters that were in relationships were losing their partners and dying off themselves. Reiux reveals himself as the narrator, in which he gave an objective narrative point of view. He only referred to events in the books off of what was seen and heard. Later, Rieux himself states that the only things that Oran's people share for certain are love, exile, and suffering. Figurative Language:
Point of View - This story is told through the character Rieux. However, Rieux does not function as a first-person narrator. Rather he disguises himself, referring to himself in the third person and only at the end of the novel reveals who he is. The novel thus appears to be told by an unnamed narrator who gathers information from what he has personally seen and heard regarding the epidemic, as well as from the diary of another character, Tarrou, who makes observations about the events he witnesses. The reason Rieux does not declare himself earlier is that he wants to give an objective account of the events in Oran. This story is told through the character Rieux. However, Rieux does not function as a first-person narrator. Rather he disguises himself, referring to himself in the third person and only at the end of the novel reveals who he is. The novel thus appears to be told by an unnamed narrator who gathers information from what he has personally seen and heard regarding the epidemic, as well as from the diary of another character, Tarrou, who makes observations about the events he witnesses. The reason Rieux does not declare himself earlier is that he wants to give an objective account of the events in Oran.
Allegory: An allegory is a narrative with two distinct levels of meaning. The first is the literal level; the second signifies a related set of concepts and events. The Plague is in part a historical allegory, in which the plague signifies the German occupation of France from 1940 to 1944 during World War II. An example of the second level of meaning is when many people became members of the French Resistance and they are the allegorical equivalents of the voluntary sanitary teams in the novel, such as Tarrou, Rambert, and Grand, who fight back against the unspeakable evil (the Nazi occupiers).
Symbolism: Imagery of the sea is often used in Camus's works to suggest life, vigor, and freedom. In The Plague, a key description of Oran occurs early, when it is explained that the town is built in such a way that it "turns its back on the bay, with the result that it's impossible to see the sea, you always have to go to look for it." Symbolically, Oran turns its back on life. When the plague hits, the deprivation of this symbol of freedom becomes more pronounced, as the beaches are closed, as is the port. In summer, the inhabitants lose touch with the sea altogether: "for all its nearness, the sea was out of bounds; young limbs had no longer the run of its delights." A significant episode occurs near the end of part IV, when Tarrou and Rieux sit on the terrace of a house, from which they can see far into the horizon. As he gazes seaward, Tarrou says with a sense of relief that it is good to be there. To set a seal on the friendship between the two men, they go for a swim together. This contact with the ocean is presented as a moment of renewal, harmony, and peace. Themes:
Exile and Seperation: The theme of exile and separation is embodied in two characters, Rieux and Rambert, both of whom are separated from the women they love. The theme is also present in the many other nameless citizens who are separated from loved ones in other towns or from those who happened to be out of town when the gates of Oran were closed. In another sense, the entire town feels in exile, since it is completely cut off from the outside world. Rieux, as the narrator, describes what exile meant to them all: “That sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.” Some, like Rambert, are exiles in double measure since they are not only cut off from those they want to be with but they do not have the luxury of being in their own homes. The feeling of exile produces many changes in attitudes and behaviors. At first, people indulge in fantasies, imagining the missing person's return, but then they start to feel like prisoners, drifting through life with nothing left but the past, since they do not know how long into the future their ordeal may last. And the past smacks only of regret, of things left undone. Living with the sense of abandonment, they find that they cannot communicate their private grief to their neighbors, and conversations tend to be superficial.
Solidarity, Community, and Resistance: The theme of solidarity, community, and resistance is shown multiple times throughout the novel. The people of Oran were initially struggling to sacrifice their pride for coming together as a community to fight against the plague. Rieux is also aware that working for the common good demands sacrifice; he cannot expect personal happiness. This is a lesson that Rambert learns. At first he insists that he does not belong in Oran, and his only thought is returning to the woman he loves in Paris. He thinks only of his own personal happiness and the unfairness of the situation in which he has been placed but gradually comes to recognize his membership in a larger human community, which makes demands on him that he cannot ignore. Ultimately he realizes he cannot face his lover if it is as a coward.
Religion: In times of disaster, people often turn to religion, and Camus examines this response in the novel. In contrast to the humanist beliefs of Rieux, Rambert, and Tarrou, the religious perspective is given in the sermons of the stern Jesuit priest, Father Paneloux. While the other main characters believe there is no rational explanation for the outbreak of plague, Paneloux believes there is. In his first sermon, given during the first month of the plague, Paneloux describes the epidemic as the "flail of God," through which God separates the wheat from the chaff, the good from the evil. Paneloux is at pains to emphasize that God did not will the calamity: "He looked on the evil-doing in the town with compassion; only when there was no other remedy did He turn His face away, in order to force people to face the truth about their life" In Paneloux's view, even the terrible suffering caused by the plague works ultimately for good. The divine light can still be seen even in the most catastrophic events, and a Christian hope is granted to all. My Response?