The Plague Questions and Answers
by Albert Camus

Start Your Free Trial

With reference to The Plague, how do pandemics reflect the human condition? Do they show more than physical illness? What are they reflective of?

Pandemics are reflective of how human nature makes us react in the face of adversity. Diseases themselves do not define us; we define ourselves based on how we respond to them. The Plague is more relevant today than ever and is indicative of how human beings fight what they cannot control and then move past it until the next disaster strikes.

Expert Answers info

M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer, ESL/TEFL Instructor

bookM.A. from Chapman University


calendarEducator since 2008

write5,713 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

In The Plague, Camus writes:

What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.

This essentially answers the question you ask, which is "What do pandemics and diseases communicate about our human condition?" In reality, diseases are what they are: conditions and disorders that may arise throughout the life of a living being. They do not literally communicate anything—they simply exist. It is our job as conscientious creatures to acknowledge and understand them, and perhaps to understand ourselves better in the process.

However, your question seems to have an added dimension of inquiry: what does our resilience to disease tell about our human condition? The one thing we can argue, which is an argument that permeates The Plague, is this: our response to the disease is related to the strength of our character.

Here are some ideas to consider: Diseases remind us of the frailty of our imperfect bodies. Getting sick directly calls into question the potential of our body to withstand adversity, and most importantly, a serious disease makes us face our biggest fear: our mortality.

In Tarrou's words:

... must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and that's the only way in which we can hope for some peace or, failing that, a decent death ... at least do them ... a little good.

This quote references our natural desire to survive and to live, or at least die, in "peace." We may not always be able to avoid or eliminate disease, but we still have to do what we can to cope with it.

As Cottard says to Tarrou, the plague came and went, and its presence should have caused some sort of longterm effect. However, people tend to move on from events like the plague and return to their normal lives until the next disaster hits. Arguably, this is reflective of life itself—we cannot stop for death. Why would we? After all, it will eventually stop for us. Therefore,

Naturally our fellow citizens' strongest desire was, and would be, to behave as if nothing had changed and for that reason nothing would be changed, in a sense. But ... one can't forget everything, however great one's wish to do so; the plague was bound to leave traces, anyhow, in people's hearts.

Disease is a reminder that although we are resilient, we are not invincible, and life is not eternal. However, it is difficult for people to continue fully embracing their mortality once an event like the plague has passed—at least until nature once again reminds us, through disease, how fragile we really are.

When an epidemic or pandemic strikes, people often band together. Today, with COVID-19, we use social media to promote ways to prevent the disease and to look out for those we love, and we do all we can to address the problem. We do the same with other diseases: cancer, HIV/AIDS, and so on.

In conclusion, disease does not define us; we define ourselves when they arise. This is what human resilience is and what the argument of the novel is all about:diseases are not just physical illnesses; they are, at times, an opportunity for human beings to come together for a common cause. With COVID-19 changing the ways we live our lives and relate to one another, The Plague is perhaps more relevant today than ever.