Study Guide

Joseph Grand in The Plague

By Albert Camus

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Joseph Grand

Grand is lovable and yet incompetent at the same time. He’s well-intentioned, but essentially powerless. He’s principled, but can’t express himself in words. And he’s certainly got the short end of the stick in life: no promotion, no respect, and as of recently, no wife. It just doesn’t seem fair.

Of course Grand’s most notable feature is his trouble with language. The interesting question is whether Grand’s issue is more of an inability or simply the problem of a perfectionist. Is he really that bad with language, or does he simply obsess irrationally to the point of verbal paralysis? He doesn’t sound particularly bumbling when he speaks, other than his constantly correcting himself, and his one-sentence book would certainly suggest that the problem is in fact one of high standards, not one of abilities. In that light, Grand is a comical fellow. Just as the Spaniard has chosen to be bed-ridden, so Grand has chosen to find language impossible.

Yet Grand isn’t the only one to have trouble with language. All across the novel men are struggling with words, redefining their words, miscommunicating, and misinterpreting. The question is whether Grand is just an exaggeration of the problems that afflict all of us, or whether he is a negative example of how not to sequester oneself emotionally because of the problems of language.

Despite his faults, Grand is labeled the would-be hero of plague-stricken Oran. Rieux finds him endearing for his singularity of purpose, his belief that fighting against the plague is common sense (not heroism), and even his eccentricity of manner. He declares that Grand is the type to always survive the plague, since rumor has it that the plague seeks out the strong and spares the weak.

Indeed, Grand is spared death by the plague. His recovery marks the turning of the tide for the citizens of Oran, which fittingly makes him a hero in his own small way. Just how Rieux would argue it should be. Grand is further made a personal hero for Rieux because he learns from the plague; he is changed by it and happy in these changes (he finally writes a letter to his wife and is satisfied in his continued work with his book) – exactly the benefit Rieux seeks to reap from suffering.

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