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Summary: "The Plague" by Albert Camus Plot Throughout the Story

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The Plague was published in 1947 by Albert Camus, while not revealing himself till the end of the story he narrates this story in such a dramatic way. Throughout the story Camus kind of gets at the notion of his philosophical view of human life, it is simply just meaningless. Camus uses the illness in comparison to the problem of evil, which breaks down all the good that is there until there is no more. The comparison of evilness in the human soul and the disease on the body serves as metaphor between the two. Evil takes over a person so easily by changing the behaviors, thoughts and attitudes taking over all the good that is left, while the plague in the story slowly takes over and breaks down the body and brings death. The symbolism of evil within the plague serves as the common corrupted theme in the book.

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Albert Camus (1913-1960) was an Algerian French philosopher and writer. Camus’s father was killed in World War I before he was born in which he left his family in poverty. Although Camus was very poor he worked his way through school at the University of Algiers when he soon dropped out when contracted a severe case of tuberculosis. He then began writing for a newspaper in Algeria in which he then turned to communism which is said that he did not believe in too long. During World War II, he had moved to France and became a part of the French Resistance against the Nazis. His writings are best known for their common themes such as existentialism, he particularly talks about how the existence of life is meaningless. Camus describes the struggle of finding the purpose of human life and solidarity in a much deeper way through “The Plague”.

The story is based in the 1940s and takes place in Oran, a port in Algeria that is located in northwestern Africa. Dr. Bernard Rieux is the narrator of the story that does not revel himself till the very end, he was the head physician when the plague broke out in Oran. The story begins off one morning when the doctor leaves his apartment and notices dead rats on the staircase, hence the beginning of the plague. The doctor’s wife Mme. Rieux is already ill in the beginning of the story, he sends her off to a sanatorium just as the plague is beginning. While his wife is away his mother stays with him and as the days go by there are more and more dead rats all over the town. People begin to panic all over town when all of a sudden the dead rats begin to disappear one day and the next the people begin to show the signs of an illness. The first victim of the disease was M. Michel who ended up dying, he was the concierge at the apartments the doctor lived in. The days go by and more people are dying of the same symptoms which brings concern for the physicians in the town. At first Dr. Rieux thinks the plague will end soon but soon realizes that there needs to be immediate action to address the problem the town is now facing. The main authorities in the story refuse to alert the public due to the possibility of a panic but eventually the efforts of Dr. Rieux and the other physicians fail, the town is now quarantined. The plague worsens and many people began to turn to religion in hopes to escape this suffering and to resist this quarantine this town is in. People within the town become more violent as they try to escape the city. The death numbers increase when summer arrives and we are then introduced to the character Jean Tarrou who was vacationing in Oran at the time when the plague broke out. During his stay observes the events of the epidemic and questions Dr. Rieux about the existence of God in which he said that he believes does not exist. Many people try to escape the town but when the opportunity presents itself they stay back to help fight the plague. The people in town begin to lose hope and their morality and then turn to arson, burning their homes to fight off infection. There is finally a possible cure to put an end to this plague, they use M. Othon’s son to be the first test subject of the new serum but ends up dying anyways. Religion starts to become an issue in the story, many of the citizens are becoming superstitious and are questioning the power of religion in this crisis they are going through including Dr. Rieux. Time goes and winter approaches the number of deaths have declined and people are dreaming of the end of the plague approaching. While the presence of disease is still around, the number of infected are receding and the serum that was created is working. Then finally, on January 25th the Oran authorities have announced that the plague quarantine will be over and the gates will open. Many people are reunited with their loved ones, the town is feeling more and more alive once again, the cats and rats are seen again after they had disappeared when the plague had begun. Dr. Rieux’s happing ending of being reunited with his wife did not happen, he received news at the end of the story that his wife had died. There were many to come that came home to Oran only to the news that their loved one have died, many realize that this plague has changed so much of the life they once had and that they can never rejoice those days. With the disease still around there is still celebration, at the very end the town of Oran set off fireworks and Dr. Rieux reflects on the plague and says that all the loved ones he lost are now all forgotten. He stated that plague will more than likely occur again, as plagues usually always return again and this will not only be bad thing this time. He states that he wrote this story because of the plague to show how it would affect people, to see if there was anything learned from this and for people to realize that we can “learn in time of pestilence”.

The characters within this book vary from doctors to, vacationers, locals, fugitives and even the rats. One of the most important use of symbolism I came across was the rats, the rats symbolize the people. There are dead rats everywhere in the streets of Oran, stores, playgrounds and so on, this is also seen when the human population becomes sick and start dying. At the very end of the story living rats are seen again, as they are living again the people are seen doing better and start to overcome the virus. The setting of the story has a big significant part of the story, taking into consideration of the time frame this was happening in World War II was going on around this time. The plague is used a war allegory, there are many references about the plague that sound like a war happening. The narrator does not really tell or hint at that there is a war going on now at the time of the plague but the comparison of the plague and the war sound so similar. He says that “it’s ugly” and “thoroughly an ugly place”. The dead bodies seen around the town, people are dying almost every day and people are going insane. The author uses all the various character types to show how the disease affects the people differently when the people in the town are faced with an unexpected catastrophe. The prime example he uses is through the characters Dr. Rieux and Father Paneloux for their different views about the plague. Dr. Rieux does not believe that religion has anything to do with the plague while Father Paneloux thinks that the plague is God’s judgement, sin has led the town into this plague. The emotional climax that really challenges these two characters is the death of the character Jacques Othon. He dies in such a disturbing way, he suffers a painful death. This child was completely innocent, sin free and he was only a child. Many people start to question the faith of religion, they thought a person was only infected by the plague because they have sinned, so now that this innocent little boy lost his life it’s difficult to see how true that is anymore. Dr. Rieux loses faith when the boy does and does not believe in anything religious, faith is not going to save anyone. It seems that the Father also begins to question his own faith. 

When the Father dies, there is a huge shift emotionally and confusion. Nobody knows how the doctor died, they don’t know if he contracted the disease or some other illness. The most suspenseful thing that was made was when the Father’s diagnostic card had only the two words of “doubtful case”. The uncertainty of the all the physician’s work and with the uncertainty of Father Paneloux religious belief really make this a doubtful case. The plague has no connection whatsoever to religion or faith, innocent people die as much as the guilty people everyone dies in the plague.

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