There is a lovely quote about football and life by Albert Camus which a group member had seen on a “Philosophy Football” T-shirt: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football”. With Camus such a football enthusiast, we kept bringing it up! Also, we noted that the book picked up speed and action in the second half – just like a good game.
The book’s main character, and, as it turns out in the end, also its narrator, says that all that he has learned about life, decent human behaviour, and morality, he has learned from suffering. We noted that the writer keeps bringing our attention back to the necessity to act decently and humbly. At many points, he discourages the readers from seeing him or the other main character, Tarrou, as heroes, but instead focuses on keeping the job going and doing what is decent and right, and not giving in to the temptation of making one person the hero, or emphasising one’s own deeds. He points to one of the minor characters, an older gentleman, as the embodiment of a true hero; someone who keeps doing his day job, and gives as much time and energy as he can spare in the evenings (2 hours each night) reliably and consistently to helping the doctor and the administration deal with the plague. The authors says that this is who we should regard as heroic instead.
We couldn’t help, of course, but read the book as an allegory to Nazi occupation of France, and Camus’s critique of, for example, hero worship, as a critique on the behaviour of some of the members of the resistance. This was so well done, it was possible to read the book both ways – as a straightforward tale of what happens to a city cut off from the world whose inhabitatns are dying, or as an occupied France reacting to a terrorising oppressive force. But as a straightforward story, it reminded us of the Ebola crisis, how people came to help, images of the bodies of victims being carried away.
We found the book impressive, truly absorbing, elegantly and stylistically simply written, and we enjoyed reading it as both the allegory and the straightforward story. The characters were not very fleshed out, but the action made up for that.
One of our members couldn’t make it to the meeting but emailed her comments:
I did read The Plague, which I found challenging. I found the story both interesting and depressing, but I found the way the story was written alienating. I don't know if it had to do with the particular translation, but I could not visualise any of the characters and that made it very difficult to feel anything for them. The death of the priest, in the final section of the book, was an example of this. He just didn't appear "real" to me, so his death had no effect on me. The characters didn't speak like ordinary people who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances: for me, they were not fully rounded characters speaking in a stilted manner. Page 189 where Tarrou is talking "at" & not with Rieux is an example of what I mean.