Finding Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Plague Essay

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Finding Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Plague

Socrates, a Greek philosopher, once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38b). Like Socrates, Albert Camus believed that a man needs to live meaningfully.

In his novel The Plague Camus creates characters who are forced to think, reflect, and assume responsibility for living as they battle an epidemic of bubonic plague that is ravaging the Algerian port of Oran. For ten months as the outbreak isolates the city from the rest of the world, each of the citizens reacts in a unique way. Camus’ main characters undergo both individual and social transformations.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, the narrator and central character, is one of the first people in Oran to recognize the
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Rieux believes that man has to do what is necessary while he is alive and must believe in humanity: “. . . Rieux was thinking it was only right that those whose desires are limited to man and his humble yet formidable love should enter, if only now and then, into their reward” (Camus 301).

When the gates of Oran are opened, Rieux writes a chronicle of the plague hoping to teach others a lesson. He wants them to witness the admirable qualities in men and the injustice they endure. As a doctor he knows that the plague bacillus can lie dormant for long periods and then resurface. Although man may never be the victor over the plague and the loss of life it inflicts, he can better manage life’s adversities in the future.

Another important character is Raymond Rambert, a Parisian journalist, who goes through a metamorphosis over the course of the epidemic. He finds himself trapped in Oran when the gates of the city are closed. This determined young man tries to escape in any way possible because he feels that Oran’s problems are none of his concern since he is an outsider. Rambert’s appeals to the civil authorities are unsuccessful. He asks Dr. Rieux to help his cause and is enraged when Rieux refuses. He then offers money to smugglers for his escape. Later during an exchange Rieux tells him: . . . for nothing in the world would I try to dissuade you from what you’re going to do; it seems to me absolutely right and proper.

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