The choice seemed perfect. I read James Michener’s Hawaii while on vacations on Kauai and his Poland––knowing history of this country well. Reading Camus’ masterpiece now, when coronavirus is raging, lets me the current events with a different acuity.
I don’t plan to relate the story in more detail. Enough to say, it’s about the Algerian port town being attacked by a rapidly spreading, devastating infectious disease. Medical details are not relevant, but they describe plague. The magnitude of calamity not seen at the beginning as such transforms the life of the entire city. It starts with an occasional dead rat, then many of them. People stop counting. At that moment I’ve learned that a group of rats is called ‘mischief’. Next, the citizens of Oran start getting sick. Fever, swollen lymph nodes, sepsis, all three types of the plague are described. The peoples’ reaction evolves from negating the first harbingers, then minimizing the problems, to trying to understand, “why us”, and finally ending in a full panic. That was quite predictable. The next plot line for me to watch was how different people responded to the same developments, and how their response evolved during the entire epidemic. In the height of the disaster, the city is being closed, people trying to escape––shot, and pandemonium ensues. All this when the doctors race against time to develop the cure.
By the end, the epidemic dies out and life in Oran slowly goes back to status quo ante.
The story is quite telling and I see it with acute sharpness in the mirror of current events.
Camus uses simple language to describe highly emotional issues. For me, it is striking how different is his writing from contemporary novels.
I don’t go into a philosophical discussion about existentialism, nihilism, absurdism and like. And as always question comes up whether God exists. I read this novel as a study of human nature. And knowing the history of past disasters, reading the plays of Greeks, Shakespeare, and contemporary novels, one thing doesn’t change over the ages. Human nature remains the same.
But for me, The Plague is a story about optimism, about sheer tenacity and determination of humanity. That’s a story of incredible physical and mental ability to fight and adapt to any adversity and setback. The story about survival.
The Plague is a story about the magnificence of human being. Regardless of all its imperfections.
And by the time I’ve finished my post I’ve received a poem from my friend, Teresa Machel. It’s worth reading.
And the people stayed home
“And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened,
and rested, and exercised,
and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being,
and were still.
And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed,
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in
ignorant, dangerous, mindless
and heartless ways,
the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed,
and the people joined together again,
the grieved their losses,
and made new choices,
and dreamed new images,
and created new ways to
live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed.”
– Kitty O’Meara