Life of French Philosopher Albert Camus

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Albert Camus was born on November 7th, 1913 in the Eastern Algerian town of Mondovi, now renamed Drean. His father died when Camus was one year old, so he was raised by his illiterate, quiet mother and abusive grandmother in Algiers. His grandmother would die in 1931, to which he recalls having no emotion towards. From adolescence to adulthood Camus was poor, a theme common in his writings- especially in The Plague. Even by 1940 after marrying his 2nd wife, Francine Faure, he was “largely dependent on her income and her family”(King 40). In 1942 Camus and his wife moved to her birthplace, Oran, which is also the setting for The Plague. The couple soon after travelled to Lyon, France in order to treat Camus’ developing tuberculosis. However, due to financial difficulties Francine was forced to move back to Algeria by September of that same year. In November Algeria was captured by Allied forces, making France (where Camus still resided) and Algeria enemies. Thus, the two lovers were separated, causing the feelings of great grief and loneliness in Camus’ life that are prevalent throughout The Plague. Before his death, he had received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. At the age of forty four, Albert Camus died on January 4th, 1960 in a car accident.

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During his time separated from Francine (two years), Camus still struggled with tuberculosis. During these times he did not know if he would live or die, and was quoted as saying, “The sensation of death which from now on is familiar to me”(King, 45). This near-death experience along with his feelings of isolation and loneliness would go on to affect his philosophical views. Even back while in living in Oran with his wife, Camus was still not happy. Not only did he feel that he relied on Francine’s family too much, he did not like anything about the town. In his essay about it, “The Minotaur or the stop in Oran,” Camus says,” how can one feel tender in a town where nothing appeals to the mind, where even ugliness is anonymous, where the past is reduced to nothing?”(King, 44). Ironically, this essay was not allowed to be published due to the government’s perception of it being “ an attack on local patriotism”(King, 44). The town’s political views did not line up with Camus’ either, as Camus was left wing while Oran was very conservative. This general disdain for the town would be conveyed when he published The Plague on June 10th, 1947.

Camus struggled to finish writing The Plague. “In all my life, never such a feeling of failure. I am not even sure that I shall finish it”(King, 76). For guidance, he took inspiration from many other authors. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been seen as one of the biggest inspirations for The Plague due to “its powerful images of man fighting against the elements”(King, 40). For Camus’ other titles, he has been known to model his writing technique after authors such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner (King, 39).

Due to his abnormal political and philosophical views, his works and opinions were often criticized. A common source of this criticism came from the communist party, which he was ironically apart of. The Plague was specifically criticized for being unrealistic, as there were no Jews or Arabs present in the story. To this he replied:” I do not believe in realism in art”(King, 78). Today, Camus’ work continues to be analysed and used as evidence for critiquing modern social issues.

The plague’s 278 pages are organized into five separate parts, each representing the progression of both the disease and its effect on the townspeople of Oran. Part one: The plague claims its first life, yet the town refuses to acknowledge the impending danger. Part two: Although the entire town becomes quarantined, its residents still are hopeful of their safety. Part 3: As the disease shows no signs of stopping, Oran is forced to watch itself waste away slowly. Some become restless and try to escape- others become numb to their grief. Part 4: The plague continues to take more lives, and ones still living are forced to experience the loneliness, loss, and regret associated with it. Part 5: The reign of the plague comes to an end, and many are reunited with their loved ones. However, there are still many left in the same depressive state the plague had put them in with no hope of returning to their life before the disease.

The plague lasts around ten months, from April to February. According to the narrator, the book is meant to act as a chronicle, with him “playing the part of the historian”(Camus, 6). As such, each of the five parts are placed in chronological order, giving the reader a comprehensive timeline from the day the plague started to the day it ended. This timeline does not only include details only relevant to the plague. Other characters’ troubles, thoughts, and actions are also present. Rambert, for example, is a character that was separated from his wife after he was quarantined in Oran. Along with details about the progression of the plague, the book also shows the reader Rambert’s response to and feelings about the situation he is in. This use of parallel plot structure allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the effects the plague had on Oran, and how others reacted to those effects. Woven into these intertwining plots are clues as to what will happen later on in the chronicle. This is even present within the first five pages of the book, when Dr. Bernard Rieux (a major character) sees dead rats lying in the streets- an obvious way to foreshadow the arrival of the plague. These techniques create a complex story involving multiple plotlines that give the reader a broad understanding of the plague, the city of Oran, and its inhabitants.

Strangely The Plague ends just as it started. Although there is a noticeable development in the way the plague is perceived by Oran’s residents through the middle three parts of the book, by the end only a select few characters seem to change. Part one displays the town of Oran refusing to believe that they, of all the people in the world, have been stricken by plague; the town Magistrate, when questioned about the rats, dodges the question by saying,”These rats, now… The rats?… It’s nothing”(Camus, 10). Even the government perpetuates the philosophy of ’If we ignore it, it will go away.’Simply put: the first part of The Plague is about denial. By part five almost everyone has become numb to the idea of the plague: They acknowledge it, accept it, and allow it to consume their lives. This is the depressing mindset almost every resident in Oran has until the plague finally stops. In an instant they celebrate their victory of surviving the disease. Initially the fifth part seems to be about the perseverance and success of Oran. But what will they do after their celebrations? According to an unnamed patient of Dr. Rieux’s, “There’ll be speeches… And then they’ll go off and have a good snack”(Camus, 277). In other words, they will go back to their regular, everyday lives without a care. Just like the beginning when Oran chooses to ignore the plague, in the end they choose to forget it.

As previously stated, The Plague is a chronicle of the epidemic that ravaged the small town of Oran. However, it is also written from a third-person point of view. This is due to the narrator wanting to stay anonymous. Although the narrator doesn’t reveal his identity until the end, he doesn’t do a very good job of hiding it either. Suspiciously, throughout the book the only character’s thoughts that are known are Dr. Rieux’s. Along with this, almost every event mentioned in the story has some relation to him. Yes, the The Plague is written in third-person, but it is obvious that this story is not told by an impartial narrator. This means that the story is told through a limited omniscient perspective. This perspective may seem like it directly disagrees with the Doctor when he says that he “made a point of adopting the tone of an impartial observer”(Camus, 271). In actuality by doing this the fictional character Rieux manages to both document the events of the plague and give limited, personal insight on said events. Rieux may have tried to be an unbiased narrator, but in the end he was bound to exert some personal opinions into the narrative.

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Life of French Philosopher Albert Camus. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved October 3, 2022 , from
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