The Plague


The Plague

The Plague

Camus wrestles with his questions of Existentialism
in The Plague through another character as well: Father Paneloux. With

Paneloux, Camus attempts to reconcile Existentialism and Christianity.

Toward the beginning of the novel, Paneloux is a steadfast Christian. He
proclaims in his first great sermon during the epidemic that the plague
is God-sent, brought upon the evildoers of society to punish them for their
sins. He later involves himself in the struggle against the plague, helping
men such as Rieux and Tarrou, and putting his faith to the test. The test
reaches its utmost when the characters are forced to watch the slow, tortured
death of an innocent child. How could something sent to punish sin afflict
a child? The child had done no wrong, yet the group cannot do more than
to sit and wait helpless as the child dies before them. Shortly after this
event, Paneloux begins to write another sermon. This one differs from the
first. He reflects in his sermon on what he has witnessed. "And, truth
to tell, nothing was more important on earth than a child suffering, the
horror it inspires in us, and the reasons we must find to account for it"
(Beginning of Part 4). Paneloux goes on to explain his reason. "The second
sermon affirms that the plague is not sent by God; it is part of an evil
which is present in the universe and which the Christian must confront"
(Woelfel 109). Although Paneloux attempts to reconcile Christianity with

Existentialism, he nonetheless fails. Paneloux dies. He, as well as symbolically,
his attempt, receive the label which the doctor Rieux records on a card:

"Doubtful case."

Rieux becomes himself one of the first
people in the town to recognize the plague for what it is, and he helps
to lead the fight against it. "Rieux is an authentic rebel in 'fighting
against creation as he found it,' in actively struggling against the injustices
of the human condition" (Woelfel 98-99). Rieux is no ordinary rebel; he
is also a doctor. As a doctor, Rieux's exposure to not only the dangers
of the plague but also to its horrors is more than most must endure. Rieux
faces this in his job before him each day. "In order to make his rounds
and to isolate the people who are infected he has to repress the pity and
sympathy he feels for them" (Cruickshank 110). It may seem then that Rieux
goes against Camus' beliefs on indifference. Rieux's actions can indeed
be seen as self-enforced indifference. For "indifference, properly cultivated,
can be a stoic value" (Parker 5). Rieux cannot afford to show compassion
for each of his patients. He must detach himself in order to perfrom his
duties. "No resource was left him but to tighten the stranglehold on his
feelings and harden his heart protectively" (Camus 172). Yet Rieux does
not keep his feelings locked up within a fortress. After he talks with

Tarrou, he lets himself become more open, more vulnerable. Nothing he could
have done would have made it any easier to bear witness to the death of
an innocent child.

Rieux does not stake a claim to the same
peace that Tarrou seeks. Rieux knows that the fight he fights can never
end. "Rieux knows that the plague bacillus never dies and that the day
would come when 'it would raise up its rats again and send them to die
in a happy city' " (Erickson 84). Riuex, like the plague bacillus, lives
on as the disease slows and the epidemic ends, for the time being, anyhow.

If in The Plague, there is one person
who most represents most people, it is Rambert. Rambert is a journalist.

Rambert finds himself trapped in the city of Oran, trapped with all the
other people. He believes, though, that this is truly not his concern.

He does not belong. He is an outsider. The woman he loves lives beyond
the city walls, and he believes this is where he should be. He spends much
time talking Rieux. And as they talk, he begins to think. He considers
his motivation for leaving the city: personal happiness. "'There's nothing
shameful in preferring happiness.' ' Certainly, but it may be shameful
to be happy by oneself' " (Camus 188). Rambert awakens to the truth which
he had been facing all along . Rambert decides to drop his attempts to
escape: he is part of this people, he is no longer an outsider. They must
all stay together to fight the plague. Rambert gives the fight his best
efforts as

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