In The Plague, language is often inaccurate and always inadequate. The inability of a given person to express his meaning is a fundamental concern of the novel. Because terms (such as "saintliness" or "criminal") must necessarily be defined subjectively, words are deprived of discernible meaning or at least disconnected from any meaning that is tangible or permanent. Communication and language, although in general supposedly connected, seem particularly separate acts here.
Questions About Language and Communication
- Grand is made comical in his inability to express himself – but doesn’t every other character suffer from the same predicament? How different is Grand from these other men?
- What is it that gives Tarrou his command of language?
- If language is subjective and often meaningless, how can we in good faith read a novel like The Plague?
- We get that Grand can’t write – but what’s up with that sentence about the horsewoman? Camus could have picked any subject he wanted for that one persistent phrase; does the content of it matter?
- Is Grand’s predicament with his writing indicative of the problem we all necessarily encounter when trying to communicate, or is Grand held up as a negative example of how not to obsess over language?
- What changes in Rieux when he sits down to write a letter to his wife? Why might this be?
- Grand is declared to be the hero of the story, if heroism exists, which is doesn’t really. How can this be so, when the man is obviously inept with words, among many other things?
Chew on This
The inability communicate forces characters in The Plague to define themselves by actions rather than words.
The breakdown of language’s communicability as the story progresses mirrors the breakdown of society as the plague ravages the town of Oran.