In the face of death | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 13, 2017

In the face of death



The Plague, a philosophical novel, written by Albert Camus is considered one of the greatest novels of 20th century. Camus was an extremely handsome and bachelor French philosopher and journalist whose notable contribution in the arena of philosophy was Absurdism. He won Nobel Prize in literature in 1957. This talented philosopher writer died at the age of only forty six in a car accident.

The Plague tells the story of an Algerian coastal city called Oran, where deadly plague epidemic breaks out in 1940's. Due to this epidemic the authority of the city was compelled to open quarantine centers to separate the relatives of the infected. But the deadly paw of the epidemic stretches over time in the hot weather of summer claiming hundreds of lives every day. The book, more than a novel, tells us how death can be fearful and the panic of death whirling around the air always changing the life of the people of the city. How it feels to see someone very near dying of pain, fever and breathlessness in front of one's eyes.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, who is the main character and narrator of the story, fights plague and tries to protect the towns people risking his life with the help of some friends. Rieux devoted his life to helping people without meeting his ailing wife who remains in a sanatorium. At the end of the book one will find the answer; did Rieux really win his battle against plague, what happened to his ailing wife? Jean Torrou was an old man who helped Rieux being a friend of him, feeling the same urges of social responsibility and fought plague. But while fighting plague at one stage he got infected with the deadly disease. Before his death Torrou told his old friend Reiux “I don't want to die, and I shall put up a fight. But if I lose the match, I want to make a good end of it.” Torrou's life time wish was to be a saint. Did he know he was a real saint?

Another very influential character was Rambert  who was a journalist from Paris but trapped in the quarantined city of Oran. He was desperate to go out of the city and meet his beautiful wife in Paris. But here is the taste of Absurdism. He says "You are capable of dying for an idea; one can see that right away. Well, I' have seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don't believe in heroism; I know it's easy and I've learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves."

Willing to die and live for what he loves, will Rambert go out and get rid of the plague afflicted city after getting the opportunity for which he had been craving for many months? Or is there something called 'idea' what he never believed in, deterring him to do so and forcing him to give his hand for humanity?

Through the whole course of reading one will be traumatized with the deadly face of plague and relentless endeavor of Rieux and Torrou; which gives us an essence of the philosophy of life. Not only the bubonic plague has been duly portrayed here but it also implies the plague from psychological, social and political perspective. Plagues  like skepticism and escapism are around us. No one in this world is free from plague of one sort or the other.


The reviewer is an MSS student, Development Studies, University of Dhaka.

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