How is the problem of evil a guiding theme in Camus's The Plague? How does the theme of solitude manifest?

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The plague that strikes the town of Oran in France is the symbol of evil in the novel. Like evil, the bacteria that causes the plague lies dormant until conditions are right for it to do its ugly work of spreading human suffering. Along with American writer Thomas Wolfe, who...

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The plague that strikes the town of Oran in France is the symbol of evil in the novel. Like evil, the bacteria that causes the plague lies dormant until conditions are right for it to do its ugly work of spreading human suffering. Along with American writer Thomas Wolfe, who spoke out against the Nazis after his trip to Germany in 1936, Camus saw fascism's evil as an ancient, primal force buried and waiting for right circumstances to erupt.

Camus's plague is meant to represent the evil, cruelty, and suffering that the Nazi occupation of France brought on the French people. People died, families were torn apart, and the soul of France suffered. Solitude ties into this in the sense that many people in the novel try to isolate and separate themselves from the plague. At first, they ignore it and live in denial. Even after the plague has become undeniable, the bulk of the people try to shut it out by isolating themselves and engaging in escapist activities such as going to the movies. This mirrors the reaction of many of the French during the German occupation. Only the few in the novel who reach out and band together to actively fight the plague make a difference. These men are like the French freedom fighters who actively resisted the Nazis during World War II.

The novel ends with the warning that the conditions that caused the plague could rise again. Evil is never eradicated but must be fought against constantly before it can take root elsewhere. It is less likely to take hold, Camus argues, if people live in solidarity rather than solitude.

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The question of evil, with regards to solitude and solidarity, has to do with the response people have toward the plague. With the town sealed off, some are separated from loved ones, but they are stuck with each other, a microcosm of any society: in any society, wherever you are, you are stuck with those around you. Do you isolate yourself or work together for the common good?

Father Paneloux uses the plague as a means to inspire hope, saying the plague is punishment sent by God. He notes that Othon's son's death is God's will (God works in mysterious ways) and cannot be questioned. It must be accepted. His actions could be construed as religious diatribes, but his intentions are to promote solidarity; not solitude. Cottard, on the other hand initially espouses solidarity, feeling connected to others maybe for the first time; later, he isolates himself, embracing solitude and uses the plague for his own profit.

Like Paneloux, Rieux, Rambert, Tarrou and Castel see the plague as something that simply must be accepted. But unlike Paneloux, they believe the plague is a random, unexplainable, and Absurdist event. It makes no sense, it is not a scourge sent from God, nor something that they brought on themselves. Camus' general Absurdist position (often referred to as Existentialist although the two terms are not interchangeable) is that seeking solidarity, and fighting the plague in spite of its incomprehensibility is the way to find meaning. I don't think the problem of evil is really a guiding theme, but choosing solitude or nihilism (giving up) - even if faced with hopelessness and futility - would be the choice closest to the evil option.

Whether it is fate, God's will, or the indifferent hand of a random universe, Rieux, Rambert, Tarrou and Castel fight, even if they believe they can't win, even if it is meaningless. The choice to fight and the communal fight itself are the meaningful actions.

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