Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Oran

*Oran. Algerian port city on the Mediterranean Sea. From its opening paragraphs, The Plague calls attention to the banality, even the ugliness, of the Algerian city in which the events that Rieux chronicles take place. Though the real Oran, where Camus, a native of Algeria, lived from 1941-1942, was not nearly so bleak, Rieux’s city is an ugly, soulless place devoid of trees, pigeons, and gardens and grimly devoted to commerce. Unlike the historical Oran, Rieux’s version is secured by municipal gates, and the official opening of the ramparts at the end of the novel is celebrated by the inhabitants as a kind of liberation.

In the 1940’s, before an anticolonial insurrection brought it independence in 1962, Algeria still constituted part of France, and the relatively large percentage of Oranians of European descent regarded their town as a provincial outpost of French culture. Yet Raymond Rambert, a journalist on assignment from a Parisian newspaper, feels particularly frustrated at being stranded by the local epidemic in distant Oran.

Almost all Camus’s writing accentuates the presence of the sea, the sun, and the sky. Yet, in The Plague, Oran is described as having been built with its back to the sea, without easy access to the cleansing Mediterranean, even under ordinary circumstances. The city’s segregation from the sea is reinforced when, as part of the quarantine, residents are prohibited from wandering to the harbor, and it is a particularly dramatic moment of release when,...

(The entire section is 635 words.)