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Literature Review of The Plague by Albert Camus

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    The first part of The Plague, by Albert Camus, begins in describing the large French port called Oran which is on the Algerian coast of Africa. The smug town is inhibited by people largely concerned with business. The normal flow of the town is abruptly interrupted by thousands of rats coming out of the sewers and dying. The concerned town people are delighted to find an end to the disgusting rats, but are then faced with a more severer problem. A fatal fever has swept the town. It takes government officials quite a while, but a state of plague is proclaimed. A doctor by the name of Dr. Bernard Rieux, who was recently separated from his wife due to another illness, has taken on the task of treating the plague.

    In part two of The Plague, the town of Oran is taken over by the illness. Everything is different now that Oran can’t interact with the rest of the world. The town was put into exile. Auxiliary hospitals are opened to hold all the victims of the plague. The death toll rises from 302 deaths a week to 137 deaths a day. Many people lose close ones who have fallen from the plague. A somber tone has taken over the town. No one smiles anymore. Dr. Rieux continues with his work, but finds it hard when supplies run short. After a much respected Catholic priest gives a sermon blaming the plague as a punishment for the people’s sins, a man named Tarrou starts work to try to aid the government in dealing with the destruction. Tarrou forms sanitary squads, with volunteers as workers. The hot summer weather scorches Oran and inhabitants fond it hard to cope. Many manage by going to cafes for alcohol. Security must be heightened since many are trying to escape the plague. In part three of The Plague, conditions in Oran get considerably worse. The summer heat is still unbearable, and the lack of rain brings clouds of dust over the town. As the number of victims from the plague increase, the room for the bodies decreases. Soon the number of coffins is insufficient as well as burial-places. When this occurs the government first begins burying mass bodies in large ditches, covering each layer with quicklime and soil. Later the authorities decide to make use of the crematorium and streetcars which haven’t been working since exile. They put the deceased into the cars and bring them to be burned. The number of public servants helping with the plague also becomes low. Although, since others were losing their office jobs, they soon replaced the lost workers. Some jobs besides the sanitary squads were grave diggers and stretcher-bearers. Time in Oran Has seemingly stopped. Inhabitants that previously were only concerned with their own problems of being secluded from loved ones, now realize they are in the same boat as everyone else. When a curfew is enforced to lower crimes such as the burning of houses and escapes, Oran seems lifeless at night. The plague is killing the town.

    In part four of The Plague, conditions are still awful in Oran. Dr. Rieux is working harder than ever. He gets only four hours of sleep, and he and his fellow workers are always exhausted. When someone is diagnosed with the plague, they usually always die, so Dr. Rieux’s job has changed from curing people to diagnosing them. Oran’s inhabitants are getting restless. Numerous riots and various crimes occur daily. Although the number of deaths were no longer increasing many people close to Dr. Rieux died. After delivering a second, less hostile sermon, Father Paneloux came down with the plague. Another doctor that worked with Dr. Rieux, named Dr. Richard, died as well. A horrible death from the plague was a son of a magistrate. He was given an experimental serum that cured later patients, but just prolonged his suffering. That serum, was acclaimed as the reason for the decrease of deaths. Also the serum was accounted for the strange cases where people recovered from the plague. One positive occurrence at the end of part four was the appearance of rats again. They were healthy and running around. That’s a good sign for the end of the epidemic.

    The last part of the novel describes the ending of the plague, and the beginning of the life after. As winter sets in, Dr. Rieux continues to work hard. The number of deaths continued to drop until the epidemic ended considerably suddenly. At the plague’s last breaths, Dr. Rieux’s very close friend Tarrou died of the plague. Another close friend of Dr. Rieux, Cottard, couldn’t deal with the opening of the gates of the town, and he went crazy. He shot people with a gun out of his apartment building until the authorities came and took him away. He thought they might tell the police about his dreaded crime. Later, Dr. Rieux got the sad news that his wife past while they were still in exile. He found it difficult to celebrate with the rest of the town when the gates were finally opened.One significant character in the novel, the Plague, is Father Paneloux. He is a highly educated, and well respected priest in the town of Oran. Father Paneloux is first mentioned in the novel helping the concierge, M. Michel, at Dr. Rieux’s apartment building. The concierge was sick and Father Paneloux was helping him to his bed (17).

    Father Paneloux worked at various places during the epidemic. Utilizing his education, he helped at the Oran Geographical Society and gave educational lectures about historic plagues (92). After the first month of the epidemic, Father Paneloux gave a dramatic sermon at the town’s church at a high Sunday mass (95-99). Paneloux believed the plague was sent by God on the people of the town as punishment for their sins (92). The people had different responses to the sermon. Many rebelled against the church and dropped their beliefs, and others just ignored it (100). Father Paneloux thinks the plague opens men’s eyes and forces them to think. He finds a positive side to the prevailing disease (125).

    Up until this part of the novel, Father Paneloux is depicted as a rigid man, and is not a very pleasant character. At this point, Father Paneloux’s emotional side shines through. Father Paneloux witnesses a torturous death of the son of M. Othon, a magistrate. The boy was given an experimental serum that prolonged his death. Paneloux pleaded with God to spare the child during his drawn out, discouraging death (216-219). After the child’s death Paneloux had a talk with Dr. Rieux about death and grace, and the link between God and doctors (218-219). Paneloux soon joined Dr. Rieux’s band of workers and stayed at hospitals and places with plague (220). Paneloux wrote an essay titled, “Is a Priest justified in Consulting a Doctor?” (220) He gave a sermon about the essay at a mass for men, in which he asked Dr. Rieux to attend. This sermon was much gentler and had a more thoughtful tone than the first sermon. Father Paneloux said, “we” instead of “you,” which made it easy to identify with (222-228). The place at which Paneloux lived was requisitioned and used to help in the treatment of the plague. Paneloux moved in with a pious old lady (230). There he got sick, but insisted on not calling a doctor. The lady followed his request until she felt he desperately need medical attention(231). The doctor thought it was the plague. Rieux came to the house and took him to the hospital, after giving him his crucifix. Paneloux died in the hospital with no symptoms of plague except congestion. The doctors weren’t sure if it was plague (231-234). The Plague, by Albert Camus, is a vivid description of a horrid epidemic. The novel reveals the feelings of the people that experienced the disaster of living in a plague stricken tone. This novel appeals to the emotions of the reader, and leaves the reader thinking about love, death, and freedom.

    The Plague has a depressing theme, therefore the tone of the majority of the novel is somber. This novel teaches about coping with the loss of loved ones and friends. When Dr. Rieux got the news of the death of his wife, following the death of his friend Tarrou, he told his mother now to cry. He said it was hard, but he had to stay strong. This teaches a valuable lesson on coping with death.

    The most heartbreaking part in the novel was the passing of M. Othon’s son in the hospital. This scene also revealed how to cope with death. The different men who witnessed the death, showed how different people deal with death. This scene also added an element of religion when Father Paneloux pleaded with God to spare the child. The Plague is a captivating book, but the plot is dismal. The death of the most interesting character, Tarrou, was disappointing, but it revealed how one may feel in losing a close friend to a disease.

    The excerpts from Tarrou’s journal were fascinating, and humorous at some points. They lightened the tone just enough to preserve the effect, but keep the novel from being entirely depressing.

    An allegory is defined as: The representation of spiritual, moral, or other abstract meanings through the actions of fictional characters that serve as symbols. The Plague is an example of an allegory. The characters each had their own symbolic meaning in the book, and the plot had meaning as well. The entire plague epidemic was a representation of WWII and the holocaust. The way in which the epidemic was not disposed of in the very beginning due to the inhabitant’s inactiveness, represents the Nazi party. They weren’t taken seriously in the beginning, until the party grew into great proportions. The holocaust comes in when everyone starts dying. They use the crematorium, which is very holocaust like. Also, just as in the holocaust, people started to become benign to the dying. They ignored it, just as some non-Jewish, non-Nazi Germans did. The Plague is a commentary on WWII. Bibliography:

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    Is the plague by Albert Camus based on a true story?
    The novel is set in 1940 but is loosely based on a cholera epidemic in 1849, after the French colonisation of Algeria. Albert Camus said the novel could be read on several levels and was also an allegory of the French resistance to the pestilence of Nazism and the German occupation during the second world war.
    What is the message of the plague by Albert Camus?
    Camus was drawn to his theme because, in his philosophy, we are all – unbeknownst to us – already living through a plague: that is a widespread, silent, invisible disease that may kill any of us at any time and destroy the lives we assumed were solid.

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