Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Plague by Albert Camus


Tarrou says, “Each of us has the plague within him. No one on Earth is free from it.” This would be the punchline of the novel, regardless of whether Camus himself agrees or not. (Camus said he was not an existentialist, in an interview over the book, according to Wikipedia.) The plague, in Tarrou’s argument, is very close to the concept of Dasein (“Being there”) and Sein-in-der-Welt (“Being-in-the-world”) of the German existentialist Heidegger’s. We are confined to this, and only this condition of life. And we agonize ourselves with this confinement. Camus is more direct to this problem of existence in his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, saying that the only question we human beings should ask is whether we should commit suicide or not.

The story has many characters with different views about life - the plague. The way they deal with the plague is the way they face their lives - their existences. Some acts upon moral codes, some derives the meaning of life from religion, and some - the main character Dr. Rieux - just lives on. Some sees it as being extremely unfair, while some others take courage (even delight) facing the revelation of the fact that everyone must face death. In this aspect, the novel is a wonder with allegorical mastery.

Then what about the realism? Jean Paul Sartre once wrote a short story called The Wall, where he audaciously claimed that he would describe the last day of a prisoner who faced an execution the next morning. But, I would like to ask, how? What does Mr. Sartre know about this particularly intriguing situation? The short story is a miserable piece of crap, due to this very apparent reason - he dared to write on a thing he knows nothing about. Albert Camus, in this regard, is not free from the same kind of criticism.

My final verdict about this novel is this: it is a very good piece of literature if it is an allegory. However, should it be in the form of a novel? He could have achieved what he aimed at by writing a play - like The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco, or a more allegorical novel - like Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. This means, of course, Albert Camus is a lesser talent compared to Eugene Ionesco or Thomas Hardy as a literary writer.

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