At the base of modern existential literature is the axiom that “existence precedes essence”; that is, humanity defines itself by its actions and is not pre-designed by a “creator.” The plague reference in these two important modern literary documents refers, simplistically, to how humanity combines its actions to produce its definition; the plagues of history serve as a metaphorical model, in these ways:
1. The plague is a bringer of death and destruction, as is life itself.
2. It is spread by historically unknown forces – rats, buboes, etc.
3. It was a group experience, whole villages being infected together (this was Artaud’s main comparison: theatre, too, is a collective experience, all citizens “infected” by the same ideologies and social influences together; his treatise was a manifesto for what theatre should be, not just "entertainment."
4. It gathered all humanity in the same experience and shared that experience with individual members.
The observation is therefore much more than a simple metaphor – it is a judgment, a warning, a philosophical summation. Camus’ entire canon stressed this point (The Stranger is the most often cited), and The Plague, whose title, on the surface, is misleading, can be read as an existential criticism of humanity’s path so far.