The Plague by Albert Camus Essay

The Plague By Albert Camus Essay

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\"They (the people of Oran) fancied themselves as free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences,\"(3.37) for every man will face a call to duty. A call to duty based on their profession, their moral obligations or their calling from their spiritual God. Set in the town of Oran, a French port on the Algerian coast in the 1940\'s Albert Camus uses the storyline of The Plague to examine the actions and reactions of the characters to a bubonic plague. Isolated from the outside world for ten months the townspeople of Oran become a petri dish for the social experiment of how an individual answers their call to duty. In order to examine how the main characters of The Plague answer their individual call to duty it is imperative to comprehend Camus and his approach to understanding human behavior. Camus wrote his body of literature post World War II when European literature was very philosophical. The philosophical approach of this literature was aimed at examining how humans find responsibility in their actions and commonality with their fellow man. Even though Camus rejected the label of being an existentialist writer, his work adheres to the fundamental motivation of existentialism. Where Camus becomes unique in his approach to the study of human behavior in literature is his idea of putting humans in absurd conditions or settings and then examining how they behave. Camus saw these situations as an opportunity to examine our human behavior for clarity and meaning within a world and condition that offers neither. \" More often than not, Camus thought on the morality of the absurd as an argument against the dangerous consequences of splitting the world into absolute good and absolute evil. Camus\' absurd person, as we shall see, lives with profound ambivalence about losing himself in an \"all\" remaining indifferent to good and evil. But Camus seeks to articulate and interpret these dangers (albeit without using psychological language) in order to avoid the facile solution of splitting the world and the self into absolute good and bad.\"(Bowker p.8) It is as the great Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “ the unexamined life is not worth living “ (Apology 38b) and it will therefore, be the intent of this paper to examine the lives of the citizens of Oran as they face their individual calls to duty in the absurd setting of a quarantined village. Examination of the characters that Albert Camus has created for the purpose of exploring their call to duty will involve both a call to duty based on the characters profession and their personnel situations. A professional call to duty involves adhering to the moral or legal obligations based on one’s profession. For instance, a physician has a duty to practice medicine ethically and honestly as outlined in a physician’s Hippocratic oath or a clergyman has a duty to care for his flock as outlined in his pledge to serve the people of God. Duty can also take the form of a personal calling as an act or expression of respect such as a husband, wife, mother or father would vow for one they love. Duty at it’s core is a “binding or obligatory force of something that is morally or legally right ;it is a moral or legal obligation.”(Merriam Dictionary) It is without question that the characters of The Plague were called to duty when the plague struck Oran, the question is how did they answer that call. The character of Dr. Bernard Rieux faces three separate and distinguishable calls to duty in The Plague. First he is the physician who is leading the charge against the plague in Oran, secondly, he is the husband of a very ill wife and thirdly he is the recorder of objective observations and the narrator of the story of The Plague. Dr. Rieux is described by Jean Tarrou, a stranger who has come to the town of Oran as a man who ;“Looks about thirty-five. Moderate height. Broad shoulders. Almost rectangular face. Dark, stead eyes, but prominent jaw A biggish, well modeled nose. Black hair, cropped very close. A curving mouth with thick, usually tight-set lips. With his tanned skin, the black down on his hands and arms, the dark but becoming suits he always wears, he reminds one of a Sicilian peasant. He walks quickly. When crossing the street, he steps off the cross walk without changing his pace ,but two out of three times makes a little hop when he steps onto the sidewalk on the otherside. He is absent minded and when driving his car, often leaves the his side –signals on after he has turned the corner. Always bareheaded. Looks knowledgeable. (1.3.29) As a physician Dr Rieux faces his call to duty under the Hippocratic Oath of physicians and does so quickly taking the lead as “He rang up other colleagues. As a result of these inquires he gathered that there has been some twenty cases of the same type within the last few days. Almost all ending fatally. He then advised Richard, who was chairman of the local Medical Association, to have any fresh cases put into isolation wards.”(1.4.30) In many instances throughout the duration of the plague and even before it has been officially recognized as an epidemic Dr. Rieux has the reputation of being a physician who will go well beyond the boundaries of expectations. For example, Dr. Rieux treats Cottard a clerk from the Municipal Office for “ a constriction of the aorta” (1.2.18) without getting any payment. It is also revealed in the hours prior to the plague being officially declared that Dr. Rieux saw himself as “high time to put the brakes on and try and get his nerves into some sort of order;”(1.4.31) which could easily be understood as the sentiments of a man who feels over worked. Despite his personal exhaustion it is Dr.Rieux who is at the forefront of studying the initial cases of illness in Oran. It is Dr. Rieux who infuses scientific reasoning into the discussions with the committee members of Dr. Castel, the
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