Life and death and hope
“The Plague” is a parable written by Albert Camus during World War II. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of an underground, outlawed newspaper in occupied France. Although the novel is primarily about the miseries of living as captives under the despotic Nazis, it is also about any people in any time who have lost their freedom and health, whether by earthquake or epidemic, and must make hard choices.
The setting of the story is the Algerian city of Oran. The first sign of something being wrong was a massive dying of rats. Then, the citizens began getting deathly sick and dying. A physician, Dr. Rieux, connected the dots and realized that a rat-borne plague was upon them. City leaders sealed up the gates of concrete-walled Oran and let no one in or out.
The rest of the story focuses on how plagued individuals behaved for the year it took the epidemic to run its course.
Some, of course, were opportunists who seized a way to exploit the tragedy and enrich themselves. Many others lived in denial, carrying on as usual, until the plague struck them or someone in their family.
Dr. Rieux offers this summation near the end: “There are more things to admire in (people) than to despise,” referring to the heroic, compassionate acts of so many who “decided to take, in every predicament, the victim’s side, so as to reduce the damage done.”
Camus ends the story with a salute to all those who find themselves in a life-and-death grapple, and, “while unable to be saints, but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”
Pestilences and victims will continue.
Healers will continue to appear and side with the victims.