The Plague by Albert Camus: Doing your job as a man

Albert Camus' 1947 novel The Plague, published in 1947, aroused renewed interest among many readers around the world in a situation of confinement. Today, through the healthcare workers in hospitals, “To state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

President of la Société des Études Camusiennes 
Lecturer in French Literature at the UCO

The Plague is the story of this epidemic in Oran and the struggle of its inhabitants to fight against evil. The brave Doctor Rieux, who tells this chronicle anonymously, tries to do "his job as a man", "to arithmetically reduce the pain". Faced with the drama, he tries to speak "a clear language" to his fellow citizens. Several protagonists are staged, each with a different posture: the same syndrome that affects them provokes a diversity of reactions.

Among them is Rambert the journalist who, although the doors are closed, would like to be with the woman he loves at all costs. As the epidemic unfolds, he will gradually become supportive and concerned for the common good. 

Father Paneloux, a priest on the verge of caricature, who harangued his parishioners as if the plague were a divine punishment, also evolved after seeing a child, an innocent, die. His second preaching testifies that he has lost his superb; he lives more in communion with men and women, on his knees, before the same mystery of evil.

I have a special affection for a discreet office worker named Grand. While he is engaged in sanitary cords, he spends his time writing the first sentence of a novel that is supposed to be perfect. This modest task may seem derisory, but it attests to the importance of the search for beauty in times of distress. 

It is also worth mentioning Tarrou, Rieux's friend who, at the heart of this battle, proposes an experience that would seal their friendship: taking a bath in the Mediterranean that borders the city. Rieux agrees to live this halt, this break with the friend. Under a starry night, they celebrate their friendship by swimming together; these moments, in their character of gratuitousness, remind us of the necessity at the heart of any battle of resourcing, of the return to the inner life and of the care to be given to the quality of the bonds. They go back to the fight" but they had the same heart and the memory of that night was sweet to them."

And when the gates of the city open, the crowd of Oranians is in jubilation. Doctor Rieux does not totally share this joy: he knows that he must remain vigilant, measured. He concludes by estimating all that the plague has taught him: 

"There are more things in men to admire than things to despise."

To read The Plague (in French) in full and free of charge:


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