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Published merely three years after the havoc caused by World War II in 1948, Albert Camus's The Plague tells the story about an outbreak of bubonic plague, historically dubbed "the plague" , in a city in the country of Algeria, named Oran. The novel narrates a rare episode in the middle of April, when Dr. Bernard Rieux finds a dying rat in the middle of the street. Two weeks later, the plague begins to bring havoc into the city and changing the people's lives forever. The basic problem of the novel lays in how Oran's epidemic isolates the city from the rest of the world. As a port city, Oran has to shut down its connections and begin to figure out life in the midst of impending death. As a result of this plague, individual lives begin to change forever: what is there to be done? What did they do to deserve this horrid event? Is there anything to be done? Who can be trusted? Am I in danger? Am I going to die? The main weight of the story is precisely this constant questioning, and the desperate circumstances that come when something controls your life and there is no way that you can regain control of it.
However, the plague is completely allegorical. Considering its time of publication, the historical context of The Plague is actually during the aftermath of World War II, particularly, in post-war France. Like the city of Oran, France, too, became isolated from the rest of the world during the German invasion. Yet, before making the literary connections between the situation in Oran during the plague, and the situation in France during the invasion, it is necessary to place ourselves in the position of the characters.
Like a disease, the occupation in France left the citizens disenfranchised, helpless, scared, weak, and subdued. The German invasion was no different to France than having become infested by something that cannot be controlled, such as a deadly epidemic. The everyday dynamics of people are disrupted, terror invades the common psyche of everyday life, and death permeates the atmosphere. Camus, as a Frenchman and as an author uses the impartial voice of Dr. Rieux to clearly and cleverly illustrate step by step the causes, consequences, and end results of the plague. In literary terms, these causes, consequences and end results are interchangeable between what is felt during the plague, and what was felt in France during the invasion. The clever words at the end of the novel are a testament to it, for they warn us that, like disease, war is far from keeping itself in remission.
[Dr. Rieux] knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years...and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again, and send them forth to die in a happy city.
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