Skip to main content
PBS logo
 
 

Search - The Plague

The Plague
The Plague
Author: Albert Camus, Stuart Gilbert (Translator)
A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
ISBN-13: 9780679720218
ISBN-10: 0679720219
Publication Date: 5/7/1991
Pages: 320
Rating:
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 109

3.7 stars, based on 109 ratings
Publisher: Vintage
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover, Audio Cassette, Audio CD
Members Wishing: 0
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

julesjergen avatar reviewed The Plague on + 31 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Very dry and not for the faint of heart. Good snapshot of what life was really like during the bubonic plague. Glad I read it. Won't read it again.
reviewed The Plague on
Helpful Score: 2
I've been reading fiction for over forty years and this is the first book I could not finish. I have trudged through some painful books in my time, but this one just killed me. The premise was interesting, but the writing style, overly-proper grammar, never-ending descriptions of minute details and the feeling of having to force myself to read caused me to simply give up.
reviewed The Plague on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Unfortunatly for me, I read A Year Of Wonders a few years back and that author seems to have ripped off monsieur camus so much so that i felt almost as if i already read this novel. he of course is a wonderful author so i give him all due credit to this novel.
reviewed The Plague on + 1436 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Whether to rate this book four or five stars was difficult for me. As I read about the city of Oran and how its population dealt with this horrifying disease, I kept nodding my head. Yes, that's the way people react. That's how many people in our world today by and large react to the 2020 pandemic, COVID19. While not as many people die, the number is still far too large. We just don't know enough but what we do know can help slow the disease and save lives.

Camus' writing style is lyrical. He keeps the reader moving along the pages of this impressive novel. I did find myself pausing to reflect on how certain characters reacted to the experience and to each other. The heros just keep going, treating and helping the ill as best they can. So it is with COVID19. And, like this novel we lose some of them, sometimes the best and most caring.

Why didn't I read this novel sooner? Why did I choose to read it now? I can't really answer either question. I just knew it was time to pick up this classic and reflect on its messages. They story is so sad and the statistics horrible but it's a read for the times. Such novels can teach us graphic lessons if we but heed them. Well done. I need to search for more of this author's work.
reviewed The Plague on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed the book. found it a little slow in parts but enjoyed the characters and details.
Read All 16 Book Reviews of "The Plague"

Please Log in to Rate these Book Reviews

reviewed The Plague on + 275 more book reviews
A classic in the apocalyptic genre. I have a copy own my "keeper" shelf.
reviewed The Plague on + 7 more book reviews
In these days of concern about bird flu and world pandemics, this book addresses some of the problems inherent in such a situation. How do the local authorities respond? What happens when a whole town is quarantined?
terez93 avatar reviewed The Plague on + 273 more book reviews
I could not think of a more apropos time to read this timeless classic, although admittedly the parallels were absolutely disturbing, recognizable, and more timely than I like to admit, in terms of both the physical, but also ideological "plagues" in which we find ourselves.

"The Plague" (French: La Peste), tells the story of a physician who witnesses the devastation of a bubonic plague outbreak which ravages the French Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s. Although it is a fictional account, it follows in the tradition of other plague novels and written accounts dating back centuries, drawing inspiration from the likes of Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year," its contemporary diary of Samuel Pepys and, in some respects, "The Decameron," which likewise speaks of the tragic nature of the human condition.

Albert Camus has written multiple world-renowned works. In fact, he became the second youngest Nobel laureate in history when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957, at the age of 44 (Rudyard Kipling was the youngest, receiving his award at age 42). Born in French Algeria, Camus was intimately familiar with the environment of his great novel, which became an instant classic. He joined the French Resistance during World War II, serving as editor-in-chief of "Combat," a banned newspaper, but remained neutral during the French-Algerian War (1954-1962). A strong moralist, he was highly critical of nuclear proliferation, especially the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was an outspoken and vocal advocate of human rights. He also wrote an influential treatise against capital punishment in collaboration with Arthur Koestler, founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.

Like so many greats, Camus died tragically young: he was killed in a car accident in France in 1960, at the age of 46, when the car in which he was a passenger struck a plane tree. The driver later died, also. He was buried in Vaucluse, France. His obituary was written by William Faulkner, and Jean-Paul Sartre read his eulogy. His most enduring works, along with his many humanistic works, include "The Stranger," "The Myth of Sisyphus" and "The Plague."

What is "the Plague?" There have been many theories over the years, as this complex novel can be interpreted in different ways, but it is generally accepted that the pestilence which descended like an ominous cloud over the Algerian town of Oran represented the "allegory of occupied France," as the introduction states. Thus, the moral questions which arise among the protagonists make more sense: how did persons deal with what was a pernicious period in which everyone's lives were at stake, where death could strike almost without warning?

The Plague announced itself in a subtle way, but one which should have been obvious, especially to a world-weary but well-trained and experienced physician, Rieux. First in ones and twos, then half- and then dozens, dead rats covered in blood should have been a warning sign that no one could ignore: a sign post in plain sight, but everyone was too occupied to notice, even those who should have. The town only became concerned when the dead rodent began to number in the thousands, reportedly eight thousand in a single day, but only about what was going to be done with them. No one thought to ask the obvious question: what was killing them?

The circumstances described in this poignant novel are now all too familiar, on a scale not seen for a century, since the last truly global pandemic of 1918-1919, but they have been experienced the world over on a smaller scale incessantly since that time. The dire predicament described by the various figures could apply to a variety of situations, including, of course, occupation and war. This is one of the primary reason to read books: the experiences of those who have lived them before speak across time to instruct and inspire present and future generations: the isolation, the separation from loved ones, as the town is closed off to travel, and, eventually, communication, are now shared experiences. The mind-dulling monotony of life in a small town with nowhere to go, with the ever-present threat of death looming ominously overhead.

The characters are fairly representative of the figures found in any given town: the doctor, his colleagues, representing the intelligentsia; the priest, the journalist, the criminal element, and the various individuals who occupy any town, in any time period.

The narrator, as he reveals later, is Dr. Rieux, hardly a bureaucratic "Fauci" figure, but rather, a hardworking and rather introspective physician who tries to serve the people of the town tirelessly and selflessly, even in the wake of great personal hardship. His mother comes to stay with him, but his wife, who leaves shortly before the plague outbreak, is absent. Rieux writes poignantly of the difficulties of her absence, which echo strongly with readers the world over, who can now relate as few could previously since the last pandemic a century ago. Rieux is the quintessential secular humanist, an atheist who relies on science and his own training, and takes matters into his own hands by attempting to spur civic officials to action, despite their reluctance, so as to avoid panic and disruption to civic life.

Tarrou, a colleague, is vacationing in Oran when the epidemic strikes, and assists Dr. Rieux in his efforts to spare as much human life as possible. His views are quite similar to those of Rieux, as well: he, too, is a secular scholar here representative of the class of humanist intellectuals who are also philosophical about human nature in the midst of suffering and hardship.

The other major figure is Rambert, a Parisian journalist who is visiting Oran on assignment to research sanitation in North Africa, but who finds himself trapped in the city when the plague descends. He is one of the less desirable characters, as he is incessantly plotting to escape the quarantine to rejoin his girl, heedless of the risk he imposes on others by spreading the disease, which strikes almost randomly and kills nearly everyone who becomes infected. Rambert eventually redeems himself, however, which demonstrates the role and power of personal choice, when he finally relents and devotes himself to combating the plague alongside the other responsible parties.

Father Paneloux is the overt representation of religion and its common response to catastrophes, including epidemic diseases. It's fairly easy to discern Camus's views of these figures, and, likely, religion in general: superstitious, outdated, and pernicious. Paneloux is yet another figure with whom we have become familiar in our own time: the fanatical, unreasonable religious zealot who delivers sermons unto their frightened flock, using the opportunity to guilt and shame congregants to an unprecedented degree by telling them that the plague was sent by God as punishment for their sins, a phenomenon which dates back to at least the Black Death, and certainly longer. The Jesuit's sentiments also echo those we quickly recognize, in telling people to pray, but ultimately to submit to a higher power - i.e., the signs we see with statements like "fear God, not the virus." He is deeply shaken by the suffering and untimely death of a child, however, and amends his views somewhat when confronted by Rieux. This has significant repercussions for him, however as he, too, is eventually carried off by the plague, despite his "faith."

A last notable figure is Cottard, a seeming-criminal who, due to his checkered past, finds solace in the quarantine and isolation, as he no longer fears arrest, with authorities singularly occupied with dealing with the pandemic. His choice is anathema to that of Rieux and those fighting the disease: his criminal tendencies continue, as he engages in smuggling and profiteering, despite the suffering going on around him.

Some of the major characters are ultimately taken by the epidemic, and Rieux's wife dies after a lengthy illness, thereby permanently cementing their separation. Not even the just and heroic are spared personal tragedy. Also, as we have seen, the psychological strain takes a toll, here depicted when Cottard, even after the plague has ceased, seemingly suffers a breakdown and carries out a shooting, and is eventually killed by police.

I am curious as to whether this novel was intended to describe what the author believes would really happen during a crisis, either disease, or, as many have suggested, occupation by enemy forces, or simply to serve as a springboard for the exploration of the human condition during times of great upheaval. For example, herein described, the general public reacts to their new circumstances, complete isolation reminiscent to many of imprisonment, with self-pity and indulgence, save for the heroic few, the medical staff, along with a few of the townspeople, who devote themselves to others. Some attempt to escape, some engage in shameless profiteering to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens, but a few come around to lend a hand, as the journalist Rambert.

Eventually, however, in the novel, at least, most of the townspeople reach a point where they become less focused on their personal sufferings and more concerned with the collective good, therein joining (albeit under some duress, as they are required to work by civic authorities) in to combat the plague. Based on our own experiences, I am dubious as to whether this will ever come to fruition in our case, but, admittedly, this plague, which killed nearly everyone who became infected, differs substantially from our own. Camus does echo sentiments we have all experienced, however, particularly with regard to the seemingly-unending isolation and disruptions to daily life, the ever-present threat of death, financial ruin, and anxiety over an uncertain future.

The book in general invites value judgments, particularly regarding both individual and civic responsibility, a timely topic indeed, considering the controversy over vaccine mandates we're now faced with, which certainly involve an ethical dilemma. It ultimately asks readers to take a stand, and to decide, what would I do in such circumstances?

Based on the situation in which we find ourselves, many now already know the answer to that question, but Camus's master work certainly assists us in framing the discussion.

NOTABLE PASSAGES

"Fifty years after its first appearance, in an age of post-totalitarian satisfaction with our condition and prospects, when intellectuals pronounce the End of History and politicians proffer globalization as a universal palliative, the closing sentence of Camus's great novel rings truer than ever, a firebell in then night of complacency and forgetting: "[Rieux] knew that... the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely... it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing... it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers, and... perhaps the day will come when for the introduction of misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse in rats and send them to die in some well-contented city."

"Our fellow-citizens, as they now realized, had never though that our little town might be a place particularly chosen as one where rats die in the sun and concierges perish from peculiar illnesses. from this point of view, indeed, they were mistaken and discovered that they had to adjust their ideas."

"In short, from then on, we accepted our status as prisoners; we were reduced to our past alone and even if a few people were tempted to live in the future, they quickly gave it up, as far as possible, suffering the wounds that the imagination eventually inflicts on those who trust in it."

"Thus they endured that profound misery of all prisoners and all exiles, which is to live with a memory that is of no use to them. Even the past, which they though of endlessly, had only the taste of remorse and longing."

"Figures drifted through his head and he thought that the thirty or so great plagues recorded in history had caused nearly a hundred million deaths. But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has fought a war, one hardly knows any more what a dead person is. And if a dead man has no significance unless one has seen him dead, a hundred million bodies spread through history are just a mist drifting through the imagination."

"Contagion is never absolute, because if it were, we should have endless exponential growth and devastating loss of population. It's not a matter of painting a black picture; it's a matter of taking precautions."

"However, Richard thought he could sum the situation up by saying that if they were to halt the disease, assuming it did not stop of its own accord, they had to apply the serious preventative health measures provided for in law; that, to do so, they would have to acknowledge officially that the re was an outbreak of plague."

"Did our fellow-citizens, at least, those who suffered the most from this separation, ever get used to the situation? It would not be quite correct to say that they did. Rather, they suffered a kind of spiritual and physical emaciation. At the start of the plague, they remembered the person whom they had lost very well and they were sorry to be without them. But though they could clearly recall the face and the laugh of the loved one, and this or that day when, after the event, they realized they had been happy, they found it very hard to imagine what the other person might be doing at the moment when they recalled her or him, in places which were now so far away. In short, at the time they had memory but not enough imagination."

"At the second stage of the plague the memory also went. Now that they had forgotten the face, but (which comes to the same thing) it had lost its flesh and they could only see it inside themselves. And while in the early weeks they tended to complain they realized later that these shadows could become still more fleshless, losing even the details of color that memory kept of them. After this long period of separation, they could no longer imagine the intimacy that they had shared nor how a being had lived beside them, on whom at any moment they could place their hands."

"From this point of view, they had entered into the very system of the plague which was all the more efficient for being mediocre. No one among us experienced any great feelings any more, but everyone had banal feelings."

"The plague had suppressed value judgments. this could be seen in the way that no one cared any longer about the quality of the clothes or the food they bought. Everything was accepted as it came."

"Tarrou made Rambert go into a very small room with cupboards all around the walls. He opened one and took two gauze masks out of sterilizer, offered one to Rambert and asked him to put it on. the journalist asked if it served any purpose and Tarrou said no, but that it inspired confidence in others."

"There were no longer any individual destinies, but a collective history that was the plague, and feelings shared by all. The greatest of these were feelings of separation and exile, with all that involved of fear and rebellion."

"He wanted to know if one could imagine that the plague might change nothing in the town and that everything would begin again as before, that is to say, as though nothing had happened. Tarrou thought that the plague would and would not change the town; that, of course, the greatest desire of our fellow-citizens was and would be to behave as though nothing had happened, and that, consequently, in a sense nothing would have changed, but that, in another sense, one cannot forget everything, with the best will in the world, so the plague would leave its mark, at least on people's hearts."
curledupwithabook avatar reviewed The Plague on + 169 more book reviews
As most literature translated to English, this loses something in the translation from Camus' native French. IMHO, of course. There's something about a "romance language" that that does not translate well to a Germanic language. So, that being said, I found this novel to be awkward at times - the patterns of conversation, the descriptions of the town, the inner thoughts of the subjects - but, overall, an interesting read for its time period. It made you think and consider how people react to tragedy, isolation, and fear, but you won't necessarily develop any strong feelings for any of the characters as you won't learn much about what makes them tick beyond the immediate emergency of the plague.
reviewed The Plague on + 12 more book reviews
This is an amazing deep philisophical book that questions the meaning of many things.
This edition is a nice translation from French.
reviewed The Plague on + 813 more book reviews
âRats! I hate rats!â Who said that? Oh, yes. It was Indiana Jones' father in âQuest for the Holy Grail.â Once you get past the disgusting description of the dying rat population, you might be home free. But, if this upsets you, read Kafka's âIn the Penal Colonyâ; that'll really destroy you.
reviewed The Plague on + 90 more book reviews
Classic literature. VHS tape


Genres: