The Plague

ISBN: 0394440617
ISBN 13: 9780394440613
By: Albert Camus Stuart Gilbert

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About this book

A parable of the highest order, The Plague tells the story of a terrible disease that descends upon Oran, Algiers, in a year unknown. After rats crawl from the sewer to die in the streets, people soon begin perishing from terrible afflictions. How the main characters in the book--a journalist, a doctor and a priest--face humanity in the wake of the plague presents one of the book's many lessons. The book deserves to be read on several levels, because the pandemic in The Plague represents any of a number of worldwide catastrophes--both past and future--and the difficult choices everyone must make to survive them.

Reader's Thoughts

Henry Martin

Albert Camus is a fairly new author to me, and I must begin by saying that I'm not too familiar with his work. Last year I read his The First Man, The Stranger, and American Journals. All of these books were amazing, so when I reached for the highly acclaimed The Plague, I was expecting yet another fascinating read. The Plague started great. The writing is what I had grown to expect from Camus - intelligent and thought provoking. From the initial scene setting, I was effortlessly pulled into the story and had no trouble visualizing the plaque-stricken city of Oran. Yet, as the novel progressed, I started to care less and less for the plight of Oran and its people. Perhaps I'm more hardened than the readers from the fifties were; or, perhaps, I have grown to expect more. The premise of the novel is definitely interesting, and Camus' writing leaves little to be desired. Nevertheless, the novel (for me) lacked the depth of thought I found in The Stranger, or the intimacy I experienced in The First Man. About a third into it, I found myself pondering other books, which is something that has not happened before while reading Camus. Half way through I contemplated giving up, yet I continued hoping it would get better. And it did, but not until later in the book, once the plague was no longer the main story. In one moment, the moment when Tarrou and Rieux take a break from the thankless work and devote an hour to their friendship. From that point onward, the novel changes tone, and become deeply personal. Here, I found the Camus I was longing for—the Camus whose philosophy clashes with the establishment at large, where human stories are woven into the fictional settings. Would I read The Plague again? Probably, some day in the future. Nevertheless, there is one thought that stayed with me long after I read these lines: "It comes to this," Tarrou said almost casually; "what interests me is learning how to become a saint.""But you don't believe in God.""Exactly! Can one be a saint without God?—that's the problem, in fact the only problem, I'm up against today."and a few lines later, Rieux answers:"But, you know, I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don't really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is being a man.""Yes, we're both after the same thing, but I'm less ambitious." Tarrou's response and Rieux's comment alone are what makes this book worth reading.

Guy Portman

In the Algerian coastal town of Oran, an explosion in the rat population has not gone unnoticed. The infestation soon comes to an abrupt halt with the mysterious demise of the rats. When the townsfolk begin to fall ill, culminating in their deaths, the authorities realise that the town is afflicted with the plague. As the death toll mounts, the population is quarantined to prevent the disease from spreading, resulting in privations for the populace.The narrator of the story is the increasingly fatigued town doctor, Bernard Rieux. Through Rieux’s interactions with the various characters we observe the populace’s reaction to the epidemic, including the journalist, Raymond Rambert, who longs to return to his wife, and the unfortunate Jean Tarrou, who wandered into Oran during the epidemic. The town’s priest, Father Paneloux, initially insists the plague is an act of God to punish the citizens, only to have his attitudes challenged by the death of the young, innocent Jacques Othon. There is great variation in the plague sufferers’ reaction to their forthcoming demise, with some resigned to their fates, whilst others seek blame, or even refuse to acknowledge it.Utilising a narrative tone and poetic style of prose, The Plague is an existentialist classic that evaluates morality, ethics, religion, the role of God and how we react to death. There are no heroes to be found, merely people who accept responsibility, such as Dr Rieux and Raymond Rambert.When viewed in the context of Camus’s lifelong opposition to totalitarianism, The Plague can be understood as a story about resistance, in which the disease itself is as an allegory for fascism and totalitarianism. This is a philosophical work that explores destiny, the human condition, and absurdism, namely the human tendency to try and find meaning in life, but failing to find any.

Rakhi Dalal

I read “The Plague” right after reading “Swann’s Way”. Of course it wasn’t a deliberate move. But as I moved on, I realized that reading of ‘The Plague’ had rendered something quite remarkable in the way I realized and appreciated both works. Both works embody a reality. ‘Swann’s Way’ speaks of the reality that is long gone by and one wish to remember and cherish, whereas, ‘The Plague’ makes one more acutely aware of the bleakness of actual reality when imposed through an epidemic such as plague. This book speaks of the things that are, rather than things that were. Swann’s way had left me completely mesmerized, longing for the bygones. But The Plague left me assessing the actual approach which governs human beings when faced with discomforts in life.The first thing that strikes in the work is the avoidance of acceptance of pestilence on the part of people of the town of Oran. Albert says, “Pestilence is in fact very common, but we find it hard to believe in a pestilence when it descends upon us. There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared”. He further adds that because pestilence doesn’t have human dimensions, people refuse to believe it, thinking of it as a bad dream which would end soon. Perhaps people do not wish to accept its onset, for the reason that they have far greater faith in life itself. But when they have to, it results in utter misery on their part. The beauty of the work lies in the depiction of different approaches adopted by different individuals during plague. Whereas some people engage in serving the disease ridden, some try to make more money by smuggling liquor and other desired goods. Some people are melancholic, whereas some try to find happiness in between. What I found further intriguing, were the words Camus employed to express the thoughts conveyed by the Priest, as regarding religion and God during Plague. Consider these two addresses delivered by Father Paneloux; one, at the beginning of the epidemic and the other, after months of suffering.First one starts as:“My brethren, a calamity has befallen you; my brethren, you have deserved it……Since the beginning of history, the scourge of God has brought down the proud and the blind beneath His feet. Think of this and fall on your knees.”Second one ends as:“My brethren, the love of God is a difficult love. It assumes a total abandonment of oneself and contempt for one’s person. But it alone can wipe away the suffering and death of children, it alone makes them necessary because it is impossible to understand such things, so we have no alternative except to desire them. This is the faith- cruel in the eyes of man, decisive in the eyes of God-which we must try to reach. We must try to make ourselves equal to this awful image”In the first address, the Priest is so certain about the ways of God, but the second address clearly depicts the vagueness, as the consequence of severe sufferings due to pestilence. How little does religion/God matters when humanity faces such pandemic! Camus has skilfully captured the inner tumult which the Priest went through while coming to terms with the harsh reality. The reading was quite overpowering. It was further augmented by the reference to Bois de Boulogne at some places during the narration. Grand, an aid to Rieux, read the first line of his writing to Rieux. What was beautiful was the effect it created, producing in mind the consequence of anxiety and the desperation to escape.Rieux was listening at the same time to a sort of vague humming sound in the town, as if replying to the whistling flail of the Plague. At this particular moment he had an extraordinary acute perception of the town spread out at his feet, the enclosed world that it formed and the dreadful cries stifled in its night. He heard Grand’s muffled voice: ‘On a fine morning in the month of May, an elegant woman was riding a magnificent sorrel mare through the flowered avenues of the Bois de Boulogne’I think that Camus, who is touted as an absurdist for his writings on the subject, has very profoundly articulated the idea of absurd through this writing as well. The idea that he presented in The Myth of Sisyphus, that of the need to seek clarity and meaning within a world which offers neither, has been expressed in these lines for me.“All that a man could win in the game of plague and life was knowledge and memory. Perhaps that was what Tarrou called winning the game!...But if that is what it meant to win the game, how hard it must be to live only with what one knows and what one remembers, and deprived of what one hopes.”


A great novel, one of the best I have read. The Plague tells story of a small town in Algeria that is nearly destroyed by an epidemic of bubonic plague. The people of the town are only dimly aware of the plague as it begins, and once it takes hold, most are too apathetic or weak or confused to fight it. The events are viewed through the eyes of a doctor, and we see all humanity, at its best and worst: loving, killing, sharing, stealing, embracing and suffering.Written in 1948, It is a parable for the moral and political plagues that nearly destroyed Europe in World War II. The lesson: There is more to admire than to despise in the character of man, but only eternal vigilance against the forces of evil can prevent the worst crimes from happening again.


This is honestly the single greatest book I've ever read.It's a slow and flawless build-up to a chilling final paragraph that left me stunned for hours after I finished the novel. I could read it hundreds of times and never grow tired of it.


The plague of Albert Camus is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, the writer who wrote that novel while in Algeria, Oran during the Nazi’s occupation of France, nonetheless Albert Camus didn’t get into explaining the suffering that the war have brought as sadness and torment to his native country, he went far beyond that by choosing one the most fatal disease that a human being may have which is the merciless PLAGUE EPIDEMIC.The story is set Algeria 1960, the plague took place and changed the way all the inhabitants of the city were living, to question all what they’ve been doing until that day. In Dr.Rieux Albert Camus unfold us his novel, in a objective way, through the critical and simplistic reasoning that doctor had throughout the story.The epidemic certainly frightened all the inhabitants of the city, and pushed them to start questioning themselves, therefore their existence, what have they achieved so far in their lives to regret the death that they may face at any moment. In death people fear the utmost, in death we can’t answer the mysteries of our mortality, in death we’re taking accounts of what we’ve done so far in this life and how appreciate life and make it even better if you’re to be set alive. The death shatters the convictions, touches the important constituents of our existence, Albert Camus protagonist Dr.Rieux is objectively included in the story as Albert Camus himself, You can feel his spontaneity in dealing with the problems that he might encounter, he sees things from top, and doesn’t get frightened by the epidemic as much as he is so eager to help the people, to cure them if possible.The novel has many different sub-topics in itself, for instance, the science Vs religion (Dr.rieux vs Paneloux), wherein Albert Camus dared to defend the rationality and the objectivity of science as a ‘’religion’’ to help people find a meaning for their lives, and question the absurdity of a world that has left people bewildered in its sinister mystery.There are even those who found there joys in experiencing the pestilence, and found that the society is better now under that fatal disease as Albert Camus perfectly embodied this feature in cottar’s character, and who towards the beginning of the story was isolated, anti-social, unfit inside the society, subsequently after the plague took place he started to see that the society has now something in common, whereupon, the citizens socially and involuntary share, and so to dismiss and discard all the nonsense that were taking place during the normal, candid, boring life. All in all, the plague is a reminder that Human beings should not take their life for granted, they should give a meaning to it, a conviction, and a standpoint towards what is surrounding them. Moreover, one can see that nature might bring us unpredictable phenomenon that may dumbfound us, but with evolving through it, understanding it, grasping its essence, human life will thus have a brighter existential meaning.

Erik Simon

I first read this twenty years ago and liked it a great deal. I don't know why I wanted to reread it, but I did, and I liked the book even more. It's one of the most relevant books I've ever read. It speaks beautifully, deeply, lucidly to any awful thing that can happen in this world. Camus is sublime in his ability to talk about the large things, talk about the small. The deaths in this novel stir me perhaps more deeply than the deaths in any other book I've read. And Camus seems to have a higher, more accurate opinion of humans than Saramago, whose BLINDNESS offers almost no one redeeming. What "we learn in a time of pestilence," Camus notes, is "that there are more things to admire in men than despise." I think that must be about right.

يحيى استانبولي Yahia Istanbuli

الطاعون!كثير من الموتى هنا: ربما عشرون ألف إنسان.. وتسعون ألف جرذ.. والكل سواء..وأتساءل: من يحاسب الكاتب على ضحاياه؟ هنالك أعداد غفيرة من القتلى يتحتم عدم السكوت عنها!!في مواجهة الوباء: كل انسان يموت في اليوم عدة مرات، وتفقد العلاقات الإنسانية ألقها مرة وتتهيج وتتضخم مرات..،في مدينة موبوءة، تصبح رؤية الأطفال وهم يسقطون صرعى اختبارا حقيقيا للإيمان المتبقي في القلوب.. حيث المئات يساقون إلى حتوفهم صاحبين معهم التقيحات والدمامل..لا مزيد ليقال هنا غير كلمات من رحم الرواية ذاتها: لا تهمني البطولة ولا القداسة، ما يهمني أن يكون المرء إنساناًي.أ


Pues no, 'La plaga' no me gustó. Creo que es una buena idea que en forma de relato corto podría haber quedado bien, pero que no da para una novela. Para mi gusto le sobran páginas y páginas y páginas y páginas. Creo que con muchas menos ya habríamos pillado todo el rollo de comparar la plaga con la ocupación nazi y también el rollo de lo implacable que es el horror y lo futil que es luchar contra él. La historia se alarga innecesariamente y se vuelve repetitiva y tediosa. Y los personajes son simples monigotes, planos y sin personalidad, exclusivamente al servicio de la acción, y así se me hace imposible sentir nada por ellos, se hace imposible que la novela despierte en mí algún otro sentimiento que no sea aburrimiento.

Eman salem

يروي البير كامو قصة مدينة مع الطاعون بدايةً من ظهوره وحتى انحساره القصة التي يرويها طبيب عاصر الاحداث من بدايتها الى نهايتها ، مع ان الرواية مشهورة ويوجد بها الكثير من الافكار فيما يتعلق بالقدر والايمان والموت والحياة وآراء متعددة حول كل من هذه المواضيع ومع ورود بعض الجمل التي تستحق الاقتباس الا انها مملة ، لم استطع ايجاد عيب فيها ، لكنها ليست ممتعة .. عموماً لا بأس من قراءتها . فكرة اخيرة طرحها الكاتب وهي الطاعون كرمز مقارباً بين مرض الطاعون الحقيقي بعوارضه المعروفة و الطاعون كفكرة موجودة في البشرية منذ الازل ، احببت خاتمته وتصويره لاختباء الطاعون ثم ظهوره ليلتهم ( مدينة سعيدة ) ..

Jason Pettus

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write essays on whether or not they deserve the labelEssay #42: The Plague (1948), by Albert CamusThe story in a nutshell / The argument for it being a classic*:(*I found the storyline of this book and the arguments for reading it to be complexly linked in this case, which is why I'm combining the two sections in today's essay.)At first glance, Albert Camus' 1948 The Plague may not seem like much of a political novel, but instead more like a simple post-apocalyptic thriller: its ostensible storyline, after all, is about a case of the bubonic plague hitting the Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s (when it was still under French control), and how it wipes out a significant proportion of the population no matter what people do to try to stop it. Ah, but realize that Camus meant for this to be his metaphorical memoir of his time in the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Paris a few years previously, and suddenly you have a very different book indeed; substitute the word "fascism" for "plague" every time you see it, and you suddenly have one of the most political novels ever written. When you take this attitude form page one, then, you can see all the ways the similes neatly match up throughout all the major events of the plot:--How at first the populace refuses to even believe it's the bubonic plague, which they had been assured could never again affect such a modern city as theirs with such a modern sewage system (or in other words, "How dare those cartoonish German fascists invade The Most Sophisticated City In Human History!");--How the first sign of the plague turns out to be the dying rats (French Jews) who secretly scurry about the edges of the city, promptly ignored by the general populace until they literally start dying by the thousands right in the middle of the street;--How it eventually spreads to the human population (French Christians), and quickly becomes so overwhelming that entire sports stadiums have to be converted into walled-off quarantine zones (think concentration camps), where thousands of the sickly emaciated sit around in morose silence waiting to die;--How the collective mood of the town becomes worse and worse as the plague continues from spring into summer and then fall, with eventually even holiday celebrations becoming joyless shams, and virtually all attempts at romance among its citizens coming to a halt;--How the endless random death gradually erodes many people's very belief in even the basic rule of law, with petty crimes and minor riots rising exponentially the longer the plague continues, which the police generally ignore because of having their hands full with the tens of thousands of dead bodies;--How the only way to handle the endless pile of dead and dying is to eventually create a vast bureaucracy to keep track of it all, which ironically makes the situation better because of people finally having something to concentrate on besides all the death going on around them, something understandable like government forms that make sense in relation to how the world usually works;--How the only character of our cast with a previous criminal record is actually overjoyed by the plague, because of it turning the rest of the population into amoral sociopathic hoarders "just like him;"--How eventually a group of citizens decide to band together to try to fight the plague, serving a variety of functions from ad-hoc security to serum development to temporary medics (so the French Resistance, in other words, of which Camus was a major leader in real life, serving as editor-in-chief of the movement's largest news organization);--And how one day, the plague simply starts disappearing as quickly and as randomly as it had appeared, leading a shocked but grateful populace to start holding grandiose "victory" parades in the streets, and start immediately putting up plaques and memorials to the "fallen heroes."But at the same time, though, this novel is also a book of philosophy, examining a school of thought commonly called "Absurdism," although with Camus himself having continual problems with this term throughout his career; it essentially argues that life is full of bizarre random events that have no causes and make no sense (the so-called "absurdity of life itself"), and that instead of driving ourselves crazy thing to come up with an explanation for these absurd events that doesn't actually exist, we should simply accept that they're there and get on with trying to live our own lives in as good a way as possible. Because that's the thing about this dialogue-heavy, action-light novel, is that much of it is devoted simply to looking at the various ways the characters try to find "meaning" in this random plague that has hit them, and how in nearly every case it leads to the situation getting even worse than before -- how some see it as a punishment from God for being so wicked, while some see it as a challenge from God to become more righteous, while others see it as a sign that we still have a lot to learn about science and medicine, and that we should devote ourselves to rationality even more than we have been, while yet others see it as proof that the universe is in fact a giant bottomless black pit, and that there's no point in even trying to act like a decent human being within such a meaningless void, because what's the freaking point?By the way, this last attitude is known in philosophical circles as "Nihilism," which Camus once remarked that he had devoted his entire adult life to fighting against; he instead argued that the process of acting like a decent human being was simple justification unto itself, that just because bad things happen in the universe doesn't give us an excuse to be bad ourselves, that there is profound value inherent in the mere act of existing, which is why his work so often gets lumped in with the philosophy known as "Existentialism," although he himself hated being called such a thing. That's the ultimate lesson that Camus wants you to walk away with in this book, that the inherent absurdity of life doesn't give you the right to stop trying to be the best person you can be, that sometimes there simply is no explanation for why millions of otherwise decent humans decide one day to become inhumanly cruel fascists (or at least to silently support the inhuman cruelty going on around them), but that politeness and civility are still worth yearning for even in such an environment; and it's no coincidence at all, I think, that Camus' work was so eagerly eaten up by a mainstream general audience in the emotionally numb years following World War Two, a shellshocked audience who had just become aware of the horrific details behind the Holocaust a mere three years before this book first came out.The argument against:Ironically, the biggest complaints about The Plague come from those who never quite catch on that it's a metaphorical tale -- because yes, if you do a straight reading of it, as a genre thriller it leaves a lot to be desired, with there sometimes being these entire action-free sections that plotwise consist of not much more than, "And then they all sat around talking for another week and watching yet more people die." And along those lines, there are some who complain about the characters being not much more than cardboard cutouts of various societal archetypes, not quite realizing that in a metaphorical story, that's the entire point, to make the characters essentially personifications of the various schools of thought that exist about that particular subject. And as far as that's concerned, there also seems to be quite a lot of people who never really come to understand that absurdism is ultimately a positive and optimistic philosophy, that the whole point is to be constantly seeking the good in a world of crap; based on their angry rants online, these people seem to get overwhelmed quickly with the pure bleakness on display in The Plague, and tend to give up on it altogether before getting to the remarkable monologue near the end by the autobiographical Camus stand-in character Jean Tarrou, who basically lays out the entire concept of absurdism during a confessional drunken rant one night during the absolute worst of the plague.Then there are the people who, even when recognizing the metaphorical nature of the book, see the entire thing as a self-serving glorification of Camus' role in the French Resistance, with his "Sanitation Squad" being a thinly-veiled attempt to overstate his importance during the war, when in fact all he really did was sit around a dark room writing snotty little essays, leaving the actual fighting and dying to others. (But then again, Camus actually kind of answers this charge in the book itself -- look at how he specifically says that the sanitation volunteers should in fact not be seen as heroes, but simply as fellow bored citizens who almost randomly choose to fill their time in positive rather than negative ways; and also look at the scorn the characters have at the end for those who wish to run around erecting statues to the "glory" of the lucky citizens who randomly managed to outlive the plague.) And then finally, there are those who simply disagree with the validity of Camus' entire philosophy; they instead argue that the only choice available to humans is to be either a pessimistic nihilist or to believe in God and be a decent human being, that there is no such thing as the "spiritual atheist" at the heart of existentialism. (And in fact this is something else that Camus directly addresses in the autobiographical climax of the book -- look at how Tarrou since a child had always wanted to grow up to be a saint, not for pious reasons but because he admires saints' ability to remain calm and wise in a crisis, but how the older he gets, the more he questions whether it's even possible to "act saintly" if you don't ultimately believe in God. If that's not existentialism boiled down to its most basic essence, I don't know what is.)My verdict:So as you can imagine with an essay series about literary classics, with a few exceptions I generally have not been too terribly surprised by any of the books so far in the CCLaP 100, with my reactions to them being in general not far from how I was expecting them to be before starting; and so that's what makes my overwhelming enjoyment of The Plague an even more unexpected delight than normal, in that I had been fully expecting the kind of obtuse, tiring, highly symbolic literary experiment that you see in the work of, say, Camus' Modernist peer Franz Kafka, or his other peer TS Eliot in his epic poem The Wasteland. Instead, I found a plain-spoken and legitimately thrilling genre exercise, which like I said you can actually see in some ways as a precursor to the post-apocalyptic actioners that would only become truly popular for the first time with the general public ten years later, a symbolic story to be sure but one that is clear and emotionally moving, not the intellectual parlor game that so much Mid-Century Modernist philosophical fiction is (I'm looking at you, Ayn Freaking Rand...and you too, BF Freaking Skinner). As mentioned, I think it no surprise that a story like this was so eagerly devoured by a general public after World War Two, because in many ways this is about the only philosophy concerning a horror like the Holocaust that a sane person can embrace -- that there ultimately is no explanation for it, either religious or rational in nature, that the only thing one can do in the face of life's absurdities is just go on trying to at least be a decent human being yourself.In this, then, you can see a direct correlation between The Plague and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, only with the latter addressing the Bush atrocities of the early 2000s; and in fact there are many of us Americans right now who are in the exact same position as most Europeans in the years following World War Two, in that we watched with our own eyes the unspeakable cruelty that so many of our fellow Americans gleefully committed in the name of ideological purity, the torturing and the raping and the puppy-killing and the secret prisons and everything else, and now we're asking ourselves how we'll ever be able to go back to how things were before, how we'll ever be able to look at our neighbors with anything other than horrified disgust. Camus' answer in The Plague is that you simply go on trying to be a decent person yourself, that you don't assign blame to your neighbor's capacity for evil but simply acknowledge it as a constant temptation in all our souls, something else he directly addresses in this book's autobiographical climax -- how Tarrou (like Camus) used to be an avid Communist until (like Camus) he attends his first actual execution of an "enemy of the state," at which point he realizes (like Camus) that his beliefs too are capable of being exploited towards cruel and violent ends, at which point he (like Camus) quits the Communist Party. I suspect that all of this is going to make the ideas behind existentialism a suddenly hot topic again here in the US in the coming years, even if it ends up being called by a different name; you should do yourself a big favor and read what the master had to say about it all over half a century ago, and see for yourself what a remarkable book this actually is. Today I find The Plague not only an undeniable classic, but also give it one of the strongest recommendations of any book in this series I've so far read.Is it a classic? Yes(And don't forget that the first 33 essays in this series are now available in book form!)


Dear Book,It was tough. We met. You talked (a lot). I listened (not a lot a lot).You said things like:"Comprehension is the only code of morals."I said through a yawn:"Now, why can't you talk like a normal book."Then you said:"It is in the thick of calamity that one gets hardened to the truth - in other words, to silence."I said:"Hmmm any idea where I can find a thick calamity?"You told me a story where there are no heroes. You said extrapolating basic humanity into pedestals and epaulettes was inhuman. I wanted heroes. I craved them.You said people were better than their sermons. You have to give them chances.I sat there sputtering with my battered judge's wig on my head.You said love, distress, every emotion loses it's poignancy. That one can't love for long, hate for long, weep for long. I didn't want to listen. I thought you were too long.You spoke of the lie of exalted emotions. Of trite monotonous feelings.I sputtered some more. I live in hope of exalted emotions.You spoke of kindness, acceptance, brotherhood.I thought this was too much wisdom for one book.But then, even I am capable of bursts of earnestness. So Book, it's me, not you. Someday, we'll meet again and I might "get" you the way you deserve to be.Shruti

Michael Austin

In every literary and artistic movement, I believe, there is one work that stands out as 1) a representative of everything that the movement stands for; and 2) a work of art that can be enjoyed on its own merits by people who do not like, or agree with, the movement that it represents. For me, "I Will Survive" fills this role for disco music; "Spirited Away" fills it for Japanese Anime, and THE PLAGUE does it for French existentialism. THE PLAGUE makes largely the same argument as THE STRANGER and NO EXIT, but I think that it is more successful on the larger level because it makes the argument positively (by showing us people who do it right) rather than negatively (by showing us how people get it wrong). It is much easier to criticize the bad than it is to model the good. Camus should be given all due praise for attempting the latter--and succeeding. THE PLAGUE would be a great novel even if there were no such thing as existentialism--or, for that matter, France.

Kristopher Jansma

by Albert CamusI have been on the hunt for books that might fit with my new Fall semester course on Apocalyptic Literature, and this one seemed like a natural fit. I'd read a bit of Camus before - The Stranger, of course, and The Fall... though I don't remember anything about that one. Camus, like Sartre, falls under the heading in my mind of philosophers who probably shouldn't have gone into creative writing (see entry on Nausea, and also a sentiment soon to be repeated as I try to read Ayn Rand). But Sartre is certainly on the better end of that spectrum - he doesn't entirely let all his big ideas overpower the story. The Stranger, with it's unreliable narrator and suspense, is an excellent book. Unfortunately, The Plague just didn't do it for me.The story begins excitingly enough, with the little town of Oran in the 1940s slowly being overrun with dead rats. The townsfolk don't seem particularly alarmed at first, but in true human fashion, slowly anxiety begins to build as people begin to get sick as well, and the dead rats begin to number in the hundreds each day. Still the people are slow to react, as we always are, because no one wants to face the seriousness of a Plague. The story follows the town's doctor, Rieux, who of course struggles to raise the alarm and Rambert , a journalist who winds up stuck in the town when it is eventually cordoned off. This is all exciting enough, but soon Part I is over and Part II begins. The bulk of the novel (through Part IV) is spent simply waiting out the plague. Dr. Rieux, of course, struggles in vain to find a cure. Rambert tries to document the horror. But since I never really cared much about either of them in the first place, and because I somewhat expected Camus to thwart their every effort and refuse a happy ending, the tension really sags in the middle. What was certainly fascinating were the more detached, sociological observations about the day-to-day workings of the town. Some people live in fear but mostly people begin living for the moment, having no real sense of what the future may bring. These expository sections can't quite carry the book for me, though, and they do scream in places of simply espousing Sartre's underlying philosophies, bringing me back to my initial reticence about philosophers/writers.I will say there was one surprise - the ending was not quite as bleak as I expected. This is probably due to my own misunderstanding of Camus' philosophy... probably less apocalyptic and more the-pointless-human-struggle-goes-on. I won't spoil it, but while it's suitably French (and by French I mean bleak) it isn't quite the end of the world as we know it.All in all, not a bad book, but not great. I did learn one thing at least, which is also currently confounding my attempts to get into The Fountainhead. People sure do look at you funny when you sit in coffee shops wearing your tweed jacket, reading Camus. Dressing down only helped a little. Eventually I took to hiding the cover in a magazine, and still I got strange looks. But I suppose sometimes in the pursuit of good literature, one must risk being a walking cliche.


When the plague stealthily but mercilessly struck Oran, Dr. Rieux and his friends had to fight in the dark a noiseless enemy and could only rely on their courage and resilience. Whether the plague symbolized the Nazi occupation of France or the general suffering of our human condition, Camus focused on the internal character and strength of Rieux and his friends rather than the storm’s force and direction. Tarrou organized the sanitation team and Grand joined even though, as Rieux noted, their surviving it was only one in three. And the journalist Rambert could have left the city and returned to Paris, but was willing to risk not only his happiness with his girlfriend but also his life to struggle alongside Oran’s inhabitants to defeat the plague. Beni Hammad Fort in AlgeriaUnlike Meursault in The Stranger, who stood alone and alienated, Dr. Rieux fought the plague alongside his comrades Tarrou, Grand, Rambert and Castel. Though in the end, the plague took Tarrou’s life and those of several acquaintances, camaraderie had strengthened their resolve to fight this unknown and powerful enemy and highlighted the hope that in tumultuous hours and charred wastelands a few good men and women might sacrifice for the common good. And though when the city celebrated its victory, Rieux must mourn the loss of his wife, not through the plague but through a previous illness, newborn aroma seeped through the stench of the plague. As Rieux noted at the novel’s conclusion, the enemy might return; and in the next battle victory might escape beyond the city, but their courage and sacrifice would carry the fight across desert and sea.A Quote from the BookAn allegory of our existential condition, The Plague sprinkles hope without relying on Pollyanna. Albert Camus

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