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Themes

Much like love, duty is tricky in The Plague, especially when you run into the notion of conflicting or competing obligations. Which is higher, the duty to the state, or to a marriage? To an individual’s suffering, or to the good of society as a whole? Characters deal with emotional, legal, moral, ethical, and religious duty in The Plague. Most interesting, however, is the distinction between common decency and heroism. The Plague argues that to put oneself at risk for the greater good doesn’t deserve medals or fanfare – it is simple a case of a man doing his job.

Questions About Duty

  1. The Plague presents a series of conflicting duties – to the self, to a spouse, to religion, to mankind in general, to love, to principles, to an occupation – which is the most important to Rieux? To Rambert? To Grand? Cottard? Which does the novel ultimately argue in favor of?
  2. Paneloux is labeled a "doubtful case," but hey, who doesn’t like to speculate? You tell us: did the priest in his death fulfill his obligations to his religion?
  3. Does Rambert betray his duty to his wife by choosing to stay in Oran?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Rieux does his duty as a person, not as a doctor. When he says it is common decency to do one’s job, he’s referring to man’s common job as a citizen of the world, not his own job as a medical professional.

Grand is more of a hero than Rieux because the doctor does his job as a doctor, whereas Grand does his duty as a human being.

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