The Plague Albert Camus’ The Plague, takes place in the desert town of Oran, Algeria, in northern Africa. It is the perfect setting for this story to take place. The ordinariness of Oran is contrasted with the extraordinary business of the plague. Sprintzen points out that “There is a mythic significance of Oran. Given the previous description of the quality of Oranian life, the selection of Oran as the location for the outbreak of plague should not come as a surprise”(Sprintzen 38).
In Oran, life for its inhabitants has lost meaning. The plague offers them a chance to give meaning back to their lives. The plot of the story is revealed in five parts, over which we see the characters undergo changes. Through the Oranian’s attitudes towards death in The Plague, they go through stages, which leave them with a final hope for life. As the novel starts, the Oranians are completely unaware of what is happening or what is about to happen around them and therefore cannot possibly be aware of the coming plague.
The opening portion describes men’s individual actions in a city as yet not officially touched by the plague. Riley believes that “First the people of Oran, and they are not extraordinary in this way, are characterized as making no effort to reach the true nature of each other, and, unaware of the reality of their world and it other inhabitants, they are unfit to become easily aware of the coming plague” (Riley 93). The main focus of every person in Oran is himself. Everyone in Oran wishes to be an individual, to have none of the problems of the rest of the world. Sprintzen observes that “The people don’t want to be stuck in the same boat with someone else; each believes one man’s problems are his own, while they truly affect everyone”(Sprintzen 84).
The emphasis on the habits which have been formed and cultivated by the “soulless” people of Oran are significant. Vital living can be stifled by habits. Todd suggests that “It is at this point that one should revolt against his stultifying pattern of living. Recognition of bottomless death makes a habit-bound life even more absurd”(Todd 165). Considering that they are completely unaware of anything around them, it is easy to see that the disease captures the city completely by surprise; no one is prepared for it. Doctors gather to discuss the matter. They have trouble naming the disease at first, and refuse to accept it for what it is. This reflects the whole attitude of the town, as the citizens do they very same thing. Doctors in particular are the first attempt to combat the disease.
The individual efforts are valiant but have a negligible effect. An epidemic is a problem, which belongs not to a person but to people. It becomes apparent, however that it cannot merely be “one” who must oppose the plague. No matter what the doctors do one their own, they cannot stop the dying. The number of victims lost to the plague climbs higher and higher. Sprintzen writes “The Plague does, beyond any possible discussion, represent the transition from an attitude of solitary revolt to the recognition of a community whose struggles must be shared”(Sprintzen 103).
Yet slowly at first, people begin to die, and the citizens of Oran take notice. The residents of Oran do not need to worry about looking for society and its common welfare, as each of them is wrapped up in his own concerns. The citizen’s awareness of the plague, however, changes all of this. At the end of Part one, Plague is proclaimed. The second part of the book begins with the statement that “from now on, it can be said that plague was the concern of all of us.” Once the town gates are shut, the individual actions, emphasized in the first part of the book, give way to the more universal feelings of fear and separation shared by all. The town and citizens have moved to a point of awareness of the plague and whats going on around them.
Riley claims that “Then the brutal statistics awaken them, and they psychologically gird for battle”(Riley 93). Throughout part one, there is a sense of urgency and frustration. Death is seen throughout the novel and we are among the few to realize what is happening as the toll increases. The frustration, however, is not wholly a life and death matter. Now, besides lives, there are values, which are being destroyed. Rhein declares that “But Camus is structuring an irony.
Death does not seem as important as knowledge does”(Rhein75). We do not feel horror when the plague is acknowledged; the horror of the disease had already saturated us. We can see its ugly symptoms-the heaps of rats’ bodies and the blood-and pus-swollen sores. The plague is already very real to the characters and to us. Spritzen observes that “When the designation is officially announced the news seems good, for it means that although death, for awhile, is the victor, at least ignorance has been defeated.
We read of the acknowledgement of the plague with a sense of relief. Truth has victory. A lucid evaluation of the crisis has been achieved, the enemy has been revealed and can now be confronted”(Spritzen 72). We now see Oran’s new environment and the adjustment of the townspeople toward it. They are taken by surprise and caught unprepared. Riley comments that “This new environment of Oran is like a world turned upside down-by accident, loved ones are away from the city, there are no letters, no telephone calls, no word from the Out There”(Riley 93).
Few Oranians adjust to this. For most of the citizens there are two ways of coping with the quarantine. At first some people surrender; others invent diversionary escapes. Knapp notes that “Of particular interest is how the plague binds men together and then, ironically, cuts them apart and rebinds each man within himself. Each man is as trapped as his neighbor; no one has special consideration under the plague’s regime. There is an immediate leveling of social distinctions”(Knapp 80).
All of the citizens are equally in trouble, but they cannot comfort one another because they have never done so before. They have never expressed traditional emotions, and thus it is frustrating and useless to speak of the extreme emotions that the plague produces. The people talk past one another. They are trapped in Oran and in themselves. Dr.
Rieux suggests that the Oranians are lucky. Bloom comments that “This is a strange statement, but it has its genesis in Camus’ fondness for irony. The Oranians are lucky because their suffering is selfishly and limitedly personal. Because no one feels great compassion, they escape the deepest distress”(Bloom 112). In Part two we see a concern of the role of the Church during the plague-what its attitude was and how it battled Oran’s murderous enemy.
Rhein points out that “Here Camus presents Religion versus Plague. The Church has defined: the plague has a beginning and, ostensibly, an end. It has originated in the sin of Oran, its purpose is punishment, and its termination is dependent upon repentance”(Rhein 142). Father Paneloux is the priest in Oran. Throughout the novel he delivers two sermons.
Bloom comments that “The first one is given in part two and affirms that the plague is a punishment sent by God and that the people of Oran must repent and do penance”(Bloom 109). After the Sunday sermon, Oran begins noticeably to change; Rieux says, “panic flares up.” At the root of Oran’s panic is probably the resurgence of fresh deaths. Death has vivid bloody traces; it is visual. A sharp rise in its death will stir panic before preaching will. The plague is no longer an irritant or even a coming danger.
It is a fact and it has firmly embedded itself around Oran’s peri …