The Plague

The Plague Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why is there a dearth of female characters in the novel?

    Perhaps the simplest answer is that Camus didn't want to write any besides a saintly mother and conveniently off-site wives. He is a paragon of mid-twentieth century masculinity, fundamentally convinced that men's stories are the ones that should be told, that men are the heroes, that women are too "other" to offer any sense of universality. Not writing women is like not writing any Arab characters in the novel—their perspectives simply aren't important. However, there are other critical interpretations, such as Anthony Rizzuto's musing that the absent women, sterile men, men-and-mothers, and lack of children are indicative of the destruction of the future. It is a "flight from the human;" it is necessary to "eliminate women and children from his literary and imaginative universe, for they were the living proof of life's stubborn will to survive. Death was the only truth and death was sterile."

  2. 2

    What are some of the similarities between the plague and the spread of fascism?

    Both creep up slowly, permeating the populace in a relatively unobtrusive way. They are passed from living creature to living creature, sparing very few. They bring sorrow, disruption, distance, and death. Irene Finel-Honigman writes, "the plague is an emblem of exile, death, and arbitrary evil," and both it and fascism exhibit "the bureaucracy of death leading to the creation of crematoriums and the all-male quarantine camp." There are deportations and suspicion and imprisonment, but there are also numerous examples of resistance, charity, and collaboration.

  3. 3

    How does language fail to encompass the reality of plague?

    Language is rendered insufficient, trite, hollow, and lackluster by the plague. Letters, while already problematic in conveying the breadth and depth of one's emotions and experience, are replaced by the even more formulaic telegram. People try to have conversations but it seems like they aren't talking about the same things. Publications that are supposed to issue facts are instead peddling quack cures. The words of soothsayers and prophets carry more weight with some people than those of medical professionals or scholars. Outside communications from other countries and towns are the epitome of superficiality and lack of real empathy. All of these examples reveal how language, invented by man—endlessly fungible and always full of gaps and slippages—is absolutely unequipped to account for the pain, grief, disbelief, and disruption caused by the plague.

  4. 4

    What role does love serve in the text?

    Rambert insists that love is the only thing worth striving for and worth suffering for, whereas someone like Rieux finds that it can be distracting and useless. The narrator explains how people come to feel that their love for another person is simply too much to bear, and they must compartmentalize it. Rieux does this with his wife, and Rambert eventually comes to do so when he realizes the quiet heroism in the doctor's striving for "common decency" and "doing [his] job" (163).

  5. 5

    How does the plague affect the people of Oran?

    This is a huge question, of course, but some of the most salient ways the people are affected include: they first deny that the plague is really happening or that it is as bad as it is said to be; they embrace religion at first and then embrace the pursuit of pleasure; they feel listless and restless; they can only live in the present as the past and future are no longer tenable; they try to escape or otherwise evince their discontent by small acts of rebellion or violence; they crave human contact but fear it at the same time; they embrace spurious cures and prophecies proclaiming the known date of the plague's end; they have to learn to eschew formerly important social rituals such as burials; they give up any sense of uniqueness or importance and accept the collective experience; they evince some acts of heroism in volunteering their time to risk their lives in the sanitary squads or in their normal professions, such as Rieux; and they ultimately do their best to return to normal as soon as they can.