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Existence Precedes Essence Essay

892 words - 4 pages

Dead rats filled the streets of Oran in the beginning of Albert Camus’ novel The Plague. The plague was rapidly spreading throughout Oran, despite the town’s effort to constrain it. Oran was soon quarantined, letting no one in and no one out. Dr. Rieux, a local physician, organizes a team of volunteers to fight the plague. The team plans to control sanitation and properly transport infected individuals to Dr. Rieux’s hospital. The character qualities of Dr. Rieux and his team of volunteers throughout the novel are consistent with Jean-Paul Sartre’s characteristics of an existentialist.
Camus’ The Plague is an acceptable exemplifier of Sartre’s existentialism because of the situation the characters face. With the town of Oran quarantined, all humans face the same destiny regardless of social class, religion, or race; that destiny is death. Cottard likes the plague because he feels everyone is connected [QUOTE.] By fighting against the progress of the plague, Dr. Rieux and his team of volunteers are essentially declaring a war against death. In doing so they are given the opportunity to make choices that define their character. This is a strong existential theme. Sartre believes QUOTE each person has the power to create themselves. In other words, the essence of a human is not definite. Simply making different choices can redefine the person you are. Sartre calls these people who understand this ability to start making a different kind of choice brave. QUOTE Dr. Rieux, by Sartre’s definition, is an existentialist capable of making these decisions.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism is one governed by the philosophy that existence precedes essence. This idea is evident in the characters of Dr. Rieux and Rambert, the journalist stuck in Oran. Dr. Rieux worked hard to make himself a well respected physician, regardless of his family’s socioeconomic status. Rather than escaping from Oran when given the opportunity, Rambert accepts the philosophy of Dr. Rieux of a duty to fight the plague. Rambert does not decline leaving because he is a good person, he is a good person because he chose to stay. This is a prime example of how existence precedes essence. The qualities of each individual are determined by how they act and the choices they make throughout their lives. Sartre believes there is no universal human essence; prior to actions, humans lack essence.
Sartre has a radical view of freedom. He believes in complete freedom, meaning there is no God and no universal essence to govern humanity. With the absence of universal...

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