Albert Camus is a famous and complex personality of French culture. He starts to write during the appearance of a new ideological movement, that of existentialism. "The Plague" is one of his biggest affirmations of his desire for social solidarity. This writing was in fact conceived as a sort of rather late replica to another of his novels, "The Stranger".
Unlike the characters from "The Stranger", which are rather individualistic, free to accuse and even kill each other, in "The Plague" we encounter characters that unite to fight together the great curse of plague. The book actually presents us the evolution of the community as the terrifying disease spreads its poison.
The motto of the novel quotes Daniel Defoe and it thus turns the events presented in the novel into a parable of the common man's fight with evil, which he defeats only temporarily.
The closed space of the town haunted by plague and isolated from the rest of the world is the setting in which the writer presents some destinies, which exemplify the diversity in unity and the relation between the individual and the community.
The characters are unequally involved in this terrible fight and the final conclusion is that people have more things to admire than things to despise.
While describing the collective psychology, there are a few portraits that distinguish themselves from others pointing out certain behavior and mentalities more or less influenced by an environment, a doctrine or a personal conviction. Thus, Doctor Bernard Rieux is one of the great fighters in the novel and at same time he is the narrator of the story.
He is a representative of silent and discrete suffering and unconditional commitment to the fight he willingly joins. Another doctor named Jean Tarrou is both tender-hearted and daring. Unfortunately, this doctor becomes a plague's victim. Priest Paneloux gives us the religious perspective on the event.
It the beginning, he is rather on the side of resignation and accepting the plague as a divine punishment, but he ends up joining the fight, also with the use of his spiritual weapons.
Raymond Rambert, the journalist is separated from his beloved lady, and the death illustrated by the omnipresence of rats makes this character do anything to try to save himself from this disease.
Thus all of these characters undergo a process of initiation, of understanding the great implications of such a misfortune, until they decide to work together for their mutual benefit. However, there are characters who avoid the mundane and the disease, by discovering new aesthetic interests. This is the case of the simple public officer named Grand.
The diseases' victims stretch from March until December and then there are some cases that are curable. The gates of the town are opened allowing humans to express their joy of rebirth. For any kind of exile there is an unavoidable cause, and also a means of defeating it. Life can only be stopped for a short while although it is always in peril.
"...Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests, that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves..."
In the economy of the novel, plague acts as a character in itself alongside its human counterparts. And rats may still return one day to invade such a happy and victorious community, but people will however not lose the joy of the fight's remembrance.
They would probably preserve the memory of sharing the same fight, the same sufferance, of finding the road to happiness which passes through charitable, unselfish love. In short, the lesson's message cannot be erased and their new wisdom could be passed on to others, still in the name of social solidarity.