18 August 2017
The Plague: My Experience While Reading
The Plague, written by famous author Albert Camus, is a book of terror, fear, and death. Imagine that a disease stalks your town and people begin to die rapidly and in great numbers. What would officials do to help it from multiplying? What if the answer was to put a halt to all travel in and out of the town by isolating it? As a mysterious plague devastates the ugly town of Oran, a city in Algeria, the citizens that are quarantined have no choice but to deal with the struggle of the plague and their separation from the rest of the world. When I first began to decide on a novel for my summer reading, I read the back cover of this novel and thought it was quite attention-grabbing. Part of it reads: “In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes an omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion” (Camus). Going into the book, I knew it would not be as action-packed and exciting as it sounds, knowing that it is literature. I could tell just by analyzing the back cover that The Plague would have some powerful and provoking themes and ideas. The three main themes that stay strong throughout the whole novel are absurdism, suffering, and the value of human life. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator is unnamed. I thought it was mysterious to have an unknown narrator, he or she must have a significant reason for this, which would hopefully be revealed later. We find out the narrator is the main character of the novel, Dr. Rieux. He fakes a narrative technique throughout the entire story. Rieux puts the entire story in third person and wants to present his story as factual and objective. This was shocking to me because almost the entire time reading The Plague, I was fooled that the narrator was an outsider or random observer. He disguised himself quite well using third person, but I started to assume he was the one speaking because later in the novel, his opinions and his own experiences come through. What really made me more fascinated was the way the citizens of Oran were described. During the introductory chapter, they are described as people of unbreakable habits. All they think about is working to make money and then spend it on insignificant pleasures. This was very odd to me, how they could be so different from other people in other towns. How and why are they like this? The people of Oran reminded me of robots. I think this book should be the required book for summer reading because it teaches us an important lesson. Camus’s philosophy is a mixture of existentialism and humanism. Camus is an atheist and did not consider that death, suffering, and human survival had any logical meaning. He believed that people can give their live value, unlike the citizens of Oran at the start of the novel. The most important part of this philosophy is to choose to fight death and suffering for as long as possible. The novel is depressing and often overwhelming, as misery and death seem endless, but it is concluded that Camus constantly reminds us of the possible horror of the human condition and the need to encounter it directly. This viewpoint throughout the novel is very prominent and powerful to me. Secondly, The Plague should be the mandatory book for summer reading because Camus describes in detail of the feelings and emotions of the people throughout the entire crisis. For example, exile is the first result of the plague, and it is overpowering. The people feel like prisoners of Oran. Camus tells how the citizens dealt with the catastrophe and how they react during certain phases of the plague. While I was reading, I could feel the emotions the people went through during that horrific period. A current topic that relates to The Plague is simply the catastrophes that are occurring all over the world today. One does not have to look far to find modern literal and figurative similarities for Camus’s plague. As the disease spreads quickly throughout Oran, I cannot help but think of the rapid rise of Isis, which is a modern-day problem now. As the bodies of the people effected by the plague pile up in the streets, it is tough not to think of the refugee crisis currently occurring in Europe. The most dreadful chapter in The Plague is the slow death of a child dying from the epidemic. This reminds me of the ongoing killings in Syria. Neil Bartlett, a theatre director, gives a powerful statement: “Infection, invasion, panic, closed borders…this may be a classic novel, but reading it often felt like watching the ten o’clock news” (“How ‘The Plague’ infects the modern political mood,” 2017).
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