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The Plague

The Plague

by Albert Camus

Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd, Existentialism, Humanism Theme

The philosophical viewpoints The Plague deals with are the absurd, existentialism, and humanism. Yes, that’s a lot of philosophies, and the novel combines various elements of each: the absurdist tenet that the world is irrational and without meaning; the existentialist principle that the world is indifferent to the horrors of human suffering; and the humanist belief that man is good and worth fighting for. Throw in a few discussions of abstraction and some jabs at religion or even plain old spirituality and you’re looking at one hell of a philosophical melting pot. Yummy.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd, Existentialism, Humanism

  1. How does The Plague define abstraction? Rieux argues that it is the enemy, but that in order to fight it, you need to have a little bit of it yourself. How is this possible?
  2. Is love abstract or concrete in this novel? What about pestilence?
  3. What is Camus’s point in alluding to his own work The Stranger, a story in which a man senselessly shoots another man on the beach?
  4. If The Plague is supposed to be a humanist work, what’s up with Rieux’s two clearly anti-humanist statements? (One is that humanists are the first to go in a time of pestilence because they aren’t prepared, and the other is that humanists don’t believe in pestilences in the first place.)
  5. Rieux argues that we cannot truly comprehend suffering because it remains an abstract concept. He suggests piling up dead bodies, but even that wouldn’t work, he claims, unless you knew each of the dead persons. How does The Plague help to render suffering comprehensible? Or does it?
  6. How does The Plague suggest we should react to the cruel horrors of an indifferent world?
  7. If the world is such a crumby place, as The Plague clearly makes it out to be, why struggle through it at all, according to the philosophies set forth in this novel?

Chew on This

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

The abstract nature of mass death makes it possible for people in this story to survive the plague.

The Plague contains more elements of humanism than it does of any other philosophy.

The Plague contains too many internal criticisms of the philosophy for it to be labeled a humanist work.

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