Review: The Plague

The Plague
The Plague by Albert Camus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A deep and fascinating study of the human soul. As I was reading this, I was immediately reminded of the popular “stages of grief” theory – you know, the one that lists the alternating emotions connected with unavoidable death or another awful fate: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In fact, “The Plague” starts with denial on the very first pages, where Rieux’s concierge is convinced: “there are no rats in this building”, and it goes through all the other stages at various points in the book. What’s amazing is that “The Plague” was written twenty years before that theory was ever published or mentioned by psychologists. Here it seems that Camus was far ahead of scientists in understanding human beings.

As it was published in the 40s, I suppose that “The Plague” is heavily influenced by what Camus saw during World War II. However, he probably chose a disease, not war, as the disaster to describe in his book, because that makes it easier to emphasize our helplessness. After all, war is brought by humans upon other humans; people think they can influence its course and duration (although it often does not work like that). And more importantly, you can’t really blame Nature (or God) for war. An epidemic is a different thing. Camus goes a long way to make it clear that nothing can be done about it, that you can fight it or not, but in either case it won’t make a real difference. So why fight it? Simply because we’re people and that’s what we do. Acting like humans makes us humans. That’s how I understand “The Plague” after having read other works by Camus; he’s trying to show us how it all boils down to this absurd, but very real, tautology. His plague is a metaphor for all the suffering in life. I loved this book; I rarely read something that can stir my emotions so much.

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