In the decade and a half after the end of World War II, as the West strove to repair the physical, psychic, and spiritual damage, the voice of Albert Camus was one of the major artistic, philosophical, and moral sources of strength and direction. Camus offered reasoned yet passionate affirmation of human dignity in the face of an “absurd” universe, an absurdity that had been made evident to all by the Nazi horrors.
The Plague is the most thorough fictional presentation of Camus’s mature thinking. In earlier works—notably the play Caligula (pb. 1944; English translation, 1948), the novel L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger, 1946), and the essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955)—Camus articulated his concept of the “absurd.” Human beings are absurd because they have neither metaphysical justification nor essential connection to the universe. They are not part of any divine scheme and, being mortal, all of their actions, individual and collective, eventually come to nothing. The only question, then, is how to deal with their absurdity.
Camus’s answer lies in his concept of “revolt.” Human beings revolt against their condition first by understanding it and then, in the face of their cosmic meaninglessness, creating their own human meanings. In his earlier works, Camus explored that problem in terms of the individual; in The Plague, Camus extends...
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