What are the major themes in The Plague and how are they developed?

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The Plague is a novel written by Albert Camus. It was first published in 1947. Through the description of the plague sweeping through a town in Algeria, the author poses several existentialist questions.

The main theme of the novel is the theme of illness. The plague was a very dangerous and infectious disease which spread very quickly. First, the rats are infected with the illness, and then the illness spreads to humans, leading to the whole town of Oran becoming ill. Therefore illness, including the sub-themes of suffering and death resulting from this, forms the most important theme of the novel. The plague in the novel is used to underline Camus’s philosophy that life itself is pointless—just like the plague is a pointless illness that results in unnecessary suffering and death.

Two other important themes in the novel are selfishness and altruism. Initially, as the plague sweeps through Oran, the citizens only worry about themselves. They are under the perception that they are suffering more than others. They are purely thinking about themselves as individuals and not about the community as a whole. This can be seen in the individual attempts of fleeing, for example. However, in the course of the novel, this view begins to slowly change. Eventually, the citizens begin to realize that they will not be able to overcome this illness on their own. Instead, they start to focus on their communal responsibilities in order to move forward and succeed in their battle against the disease as a community.

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