(La Peste) The Plague by Albert Camus – a review
The opening is astounding. Some three to four pages of small print in which Camus attempts to describe his Oran, the setting of the novel. The following is an extract:
Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card tables, in cafes, and in small talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless, there still exist towns and countries where people have now and again an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern. Hence I see no need to dwell on the manner of loving in our town. The men and women consume each other rapidly in what is called ‘the act of love’, or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality. We seldom find a mean between these extremes. That, too, is not exceptional. At Oran, as elsewhere, for lack of time and thinking, people have to love each other without knowing much about it.
Camus describes a collective affliction. The plague occupies the town as surely and rigidly and impersonally as a Panzer Division.
And the description is about what happens to the town, the community, as well as the single individuals. The narrator is an individual, and we meet some others, Rieux the doctor, Tarrou and their friends and colleagues, although none of these seem to be fully explored or realised. Camus’ theme is society, it’s illusions and attempts at identity. We read about the indifference of the many; the general consensus that the responsibility for the plague lies elsewhere.
We read about the events of the plague. What happens is reported. There is nothing more than that. Although the progress of the spread and decline of the plague are natural we are always conscious that the plague is a metaphor or an allegory, perhaps a series of metaphors for the Nazi invasion and occupation, or for any thing or concept that imprisons us and takes away our freedom or our expectations.
Camus has a story to tell but he also has a message. Now that God is no longer part of our equation we have to take our destiny into our own hands. Prayer will not defend our freedom. And involvement in the death of others, directly or indirectly, will only add to our problems and not even begin to penetrate the absurdity of our situation.
This post also concerns the writer, Albert Camus