Is The Plague An Existentialist Novel

1671 words - 7 pages

Abigail JonesSteven FelderHumanities 4October 27, 2014Is The Plague an Existentialist Novel?Jean-Paul Sartre, father of existentialist thought said, "Before you come alive, life is nothing; it's up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing else but the meaning you choose" (Guignon and Pereboom 307-308). Sartre's language is grounded in existentialist theory, a theory claiming that a person is free and able to make his or her own conscious choices without adhering to guidelines proposed by a higher power. With this definition in mind, many notable existentialists, like Sartre, affirm that there is no god. Sartre asserts that followers of existentialism have no predetermined destiny to carry out, and that they are able to create their own fate by assigning value to the actions that they choose. For these reasons, Sartre would justify murder, for example, by claiming that the action alone had meaning and value, as it was an individual choice. Alternatively, Albert Camus would claim the act of murder to be unacceptable, since it goes against his belief that mankind is inherently good. In his novel, The Plague, Camus' utilizes dynamic characters and themes to ask the question whether or not mankind has the potential to do the right thing. Camus' novel defies Sartre's notions of existentialism as his characters recognize the need to fight for a good will, as opposed to focusing on methods of self-promotion and attitudes of arrogance.The Plague is often seen as an amalgam of WWI and II as its premise focuses on how the North African city of Oran is going to overcome the immense chaos and disaster brought on by the spread of disease. Through the use of complex characters and themes, Camus paints a mundane picture of Oran where residents work hard to gain wealth. The citizens have done nothing obviously wrong, but Camus uses The Plague and the people of Oran as a metaphor for the world on a larger scale, accounting for all struggles. The citizens of Oran isolate themselves within their work lives. With the outbreak of the plague, however, the citizens are forced to confront various problems and situations that threaten their wellbeing and status. Camus describes these people as hard workers, but he seems to reveal a level of contempt when describing their work ethic."Our citizens work hard but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is as they call it, "doing business" (Camus 4).Here, Camus' language represents a style reminiscent of Sartre's standards of existentialism. The phrase "doing business" can easily be translated to Sartre's concept of "being." So long as the citizens of Oran are participating within the society, they are "being." This quotation describes existentialism in its purest form. Camus seems to harbor an element of contempt for the citizens of Oran. In his eyes, the citizens of Oran could be working hard to fight the epidemic, as opposed to adopting the attitude...

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