The Plague Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd, Existentialism, Humanism Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Stuart Gilbert's translation.
He had a soldierly bearing, very erect, and affected a military style of dressing; his snow-white hair was always brushed to perfect smoothness. Leaning over the balcony he would call: "Pussy! Pussy!" in a voice at once haughty and endearing. The cats blinked up at him with sleep-pale eyes, but made no move as yet. He then proceeded to tear some paper into scraps and let them fall into the street; interested by the fluttering shower of white butterflies, the cats came forward, lifting tentative paws toward the last scraps of paper. Then, taking careful aim, the old man would spit vigorously at the cats and, whenever a liquid missile hit the quarry, he would beam with delight. (1.3.18)
The old man finds meaning in his life only by performing a meaningless action. Tarrou is drawn to this man because, although his actions are insignificant, he consciously chooses to do them and is therefore able to delight in what would otherwise be banal.
His hair isn’t as well brushed as usual, and he looks less alert, less military. You can see he is worried. After a few moments he went back into the room. But first he spat once—on emptiness. (1.3.23)
Spitting on emptiness seems the ultimate acceptance of the absurdity and triviality of life.
In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. (1.5.3)
Given that many label The Plague to be Camus’s humanist work, this is an interesting line. Humanists believe that all people are good and valuable; they seek rational ways of solving problems. The sentiment expressed here is clearly anti-humanist – Rieux thinks they are too blind/stupid/ignorant to see that horrible things – like plagues – exist in the world. We’ll need to ponder this for a bit.