Albert Camus is well known for his Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, through which he pioneered the idea of the absurd and made a relatively lesser known Greek mythic figure, Sisyphus, into a worldwide celebrity for the absurd task.
Even in his classic 1947 novel, The Plague or La Peste (in French), he uses the motifs of absurdism predominantly.
What the book is about?
A Plague! Duh! What else?
But to be more precise, a plague in Oran.
When, Oran, a small town in Algeria, is struck by an unexpected bubonic plague, the residents and the administration are hard pressed to control it. The main characters’ lives revolve around the plague. We see the plague’s crushing power and how the characters and the whole town is suffocated by it.
Of course, it is not that we have any plagues anymore. The world does have its fair share of epidemics though.
But what would happen if a plague struck your town? Would you be forced into quarantine? Would you be forced to follow certain rigid rules? Will death knock at your door or your neighbour’s door every single day?
But isn’t that how life is anyway? We follow certain rules and restrictions and norms. We have our everyday rituals and mundaneness as well.
Does that mean we are living in a plague like situation all the time?
That is most certainly not true. However, Camus uses the metaphor of the plague to our own everyday lives along with as a metaphor for the Third Reich so skillfully that we forced to rethink our everyday lives as well. Don’t we all face those struggles that the characters face? don’t we identify with Dr. Rieux who agitates over the ever increasing patients, or Raymond Rambert, a journalist, who reluctantly finds himself trapped in Oran after it is cut off from the rest of the world due to the plague? Or other characters who suffer the pain of being separated from their near or dear ones or suffer from the pain of seeing them suffer and perish?
One last reason to pick it up?
This is difficult for me to state since I did not particularly love this novel as I found it hard to pay attention to the story! For me personally, Franz Kafka’s novels have always been a better choice to read any absurd literature rather than Camus! Though I did enjoy Camus’ The Outsider or The Stranger!
What I did truly did enjoy about The Plague or La Peste is the use of the metaphor of the plague itself. I would say that one definite reason to pick it up is to see how that metaphor can be applied to the very absurdity of our normal lives or can be related to the whole of the human condition even till today.