Social Concerns / Themes
The Plague can be read on several levels. The three most important are the literal, which matches classical and scientific descriptions of the bubonic plague; the political, which has obvious echoes of the Occupation from 1941-1944; and the metaphysical, which addresses the problem of evil in the world. Critics have also explored others, such as the psychoanalytic, delineated by Alain Costes, the narcissistic, in Brian Fitch's interpretation, and the linguistic, examined by Paul Fortier and Gerald Prince. In a letter of Camus to Roland Barthes in 1955, Camus says that it was to symbolize oppression in all its forms that he wrote the book.
Critics contemporary with Camus hailed the novel as a parable of the German Occupation. Since Camus conceived the idea in 1938 and began to work on it in 1943, when he was "exiled" from Algeria in a remote mountain village in the Massif Central, he evidently did have the Occupation in mind. Frenchmen during this period called the German presence "la peste brune." The closed universe of Oran, sealed off from all communication, is not unlike the France of the early 1940s, which like Oran monotonously pursued its daily occupations, yet remained subconsciously aware of a threatening presence. The "equipes sanitaires" (health teams) organized by Rieux and his friends are like the small groups of the Resistance in which Camus himself participated. The rationing of food and gas, the careful use of...
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