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Written by Timothy Sexton
The plague itself is comprehensively thematic. Depending on the perspective of the reader and what he brings to it, the plague could relate to themes specifically related to World War II and the French Resistance, a more universal application to the plague of oppressive governments or an even more universal application of the oppression suffered by a minority for no apparent reason.
The plague that strikes Oran is thematically rich in its exploration of the Absurd. The location of Oran is utterly random yet the manner in which the plague plays out is utterly ruthless; almost as if it had been chosen by some greater power. Which is the very essence of existential angst which the novel is dedicated to portraying.
Resisting the Absurd
Can one resist the Absurd? For Camus, that is the true overarching theme of all his work. The lucid recognition of the natural state of the absurdity of existence is vital within the existential mindset of Camus so resistance not only isn’t futile, it is absolutely necessary. In The Plague, it is the characters of Rieux, Rambert, and Tarrou who personify and exemplify this necessity to rise up and take arms against the Absurd.
Father Paneloux represents the argument against existentialism and the Absurd with his proposition that there is nothing random about the pestilence; it is, quite simply, the just punishment of the people of Oran meted out by a wise god as payment for their ins. Camus presents this well-founded historical reaction to such random natural events by raising the stakes of equally well-founded debate over reconciling such a justification with the deaths of the innocents.
Separation and Alienation
A thematic strain of separation is most strongly realized in how the characters of Rambert and Rieux in the sense of being ripped asunder from their lovers. Those two subplots are mere personifications of the novel’s much larger thematic analysis of how people are separated not just from those they love as the result of the intrusion of the Absurd, but how entire communities become separated from the rest of the world and then, going back down into the personal again, how the arrival of a completely random viral infestation can be politicized by those with an agenda to create a Paneloux-like justification out of fear and anxiety.
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I suppose this depends on if the plague had materialized in Europe yet. If it had not, I not think much of the boats coming. It took a while for people to understand that the plague came from rats in these boats.