In The Plague, by Albert Camus, is the story hopeful or despairing about the human condition? Why?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The wonderful thing about Albert Camus' The Plague is that it depicts both the negative and positive of the human condition. The three characters who most depict the human condition are Dr. Bernard Rieux, Joseph Grand, and Cottard. In a sense, each posses characteristics which illustrate both positives and negatives of the human condition.

Dr. Rieux embodies the definition of a hero. In a sense, even though he realizes that the plague he is fighting cannot be stopped, he refuses to quit. Emotionally, he feels for his patients, but he also realizes that he must separate his emotions from his job. This says that some people will continue to do what needs to be done even when they only see failure. When speaking to the human condition, it speaks of the human's ability to endure the inevitable. 

Joseph Grand represents the epitome of the idea that even those who are poor are cabale of great wealth. He is a very affectionate man who openly volunteers to help keep the stastics of the plague. A writer, Grand shows a quiet, yet profound, understanding of human plight. Grand shows the importance of courage.

Cottard is the character who shows the most "promise" regarding the human condition. Mostly a recluse, Cottard begins to change his ways after the plague outbreak. Although he begins to make friends, he takes advantage of the fear people are living in. As seen in much of history during tragedies, some people take advantage of others in bad situations. Cottard is this man.

Depending upon what character the reader most aligns with determines if he or she defines the story as hopeful or despairing. If identifies the overall message of the novel as one which highlights the evil in man, then he or she will find the novel despairing. On the other hand, if one identifies the courage and strength which appears in trying times, he or she may identify the novel as hopeful.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While the novel is not entirely hopeful about people's reactions to adversity, it concludes on a hopeful note. As the death toll from the plague begins to slow, people feel cautious hope. Though Camus refers to this hope as a "negative solace," as people only have the comfort of knowing that they are less likely to die from the plague, this solace nonetheless makes them appreciate the everyday. At the end of the plague, they are filled with hope, and Camus describes them as "setting forth at last, like a shipload of survivors, towards a land of promise."

In the end, Cottard feels optimistic about the future and says that everyone has to start over again. Though he always lived in fear before the plague, he now feels that it is a clean start. Cottard is a malevolent character who profited from the plague, but he is seemingly offered redemption and a new beginning when the plague ends. The author implies that even though different people approached the plague in different ways—some compassionate and good and some evil and self-serving—they are all offered a fresh beginning when the plague ends. The novel concludes on a note of redemption and hope about the human condition.