by Albert Camus
The Plague Introduction
In A Nutshell
The Plague, or La Peste in its original French, is a novel written by philosopher/writer Albert Camus in 1947. The story centers on a physician and the people he works with and treats in an Algerian port town that is struck by the plague. The tale is highly allegorical, meaning that it uses concrete characters, places, and events to symbolize non-literal or abstract principles. The Plague deals with issues central to three different but related philosophies: existentialism, the absurd, and humanism. Yes, that’s quite the pu pu platter. In addition to being incredibly steeped in philosophy, the novel is often read as a war allegory and a commentary on World War II (which would have been ripe material in the 1940s). Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for his combined work which the committee declared as "illuminating the problems of the human conscience in our times." Doubtless, The Plague played a part in that award, which is reason enough to stop dithering about and read it already.
Why Should I Care?
The Plague in ten seconds: The world is senseless and indifferent to human suffering, which is unceasing and often torturous. We should fight against suffering anyway, but it’s going to be a bloody awful battle that we always lose, especially since we can’t ever understand the suffering of others, due in part to the fact that language is completely inadequate. Have fun!
Whoa there. Hold up just a minute. The world may be a crumby place, and sure, we have a hard time communicating with each other, especially when trying to understand one of those grill assembly manuals translated from Mandarin to English by someone who speaks only French and German. But that doesn’t mean we can’t connect to each other in incredibly personal ways every day, that we can’t take a stab at understanding the suffering of others, communication be damned, and then doing something about it. Right? What about Students for Darfur, Amnesty International, and Oxfam?
But even if you’re not in Camus’s philosophical camp, you can still have a good time with The Plague. Because, as it turns out, while Camus was trying to write an allegory about How to Live Your Life in a Cold and Indifferent World that Sucks, he accidentally wrote a very good book about very human people. Which makes it not only a Philosophical Heavyweight Work of Weight and Significance, but also, fortunately, Something to Think About While Standing in Line.
Now that we’ve used up our capital letter quota for the next six years, we’re going to go spit on some cats while aimlessly transferring peas one at a time from one pan to another. (Just read the book. You’ll get it later.)