The Plague by Albert Camus is Coming to Life Before Our Eyes

By. Laurie Riihimaki

Plague Medic. Credit: Snook 8

In these unprecedented times, while we are all living and struggling through this “unpredicted” nightmare, we have to wonder: are we the victims? Covid-19 has swept the globe, and everyone everywhere is shuddering under a shared umbrella of anxiety and fear, with minuscule tears that allow doubt, shame, guilt, and radical conspiracies to filter through.

How did we get to this point and what do we do now that we are already here?

A collegiate favorite, The Plague by Albert Camus (1948) sheds some light on our horror-filled situation by examining what the real plague actually is and how we should have seen it coming all along.

UK First Edition cover of The Plague by Albert Camus (1948). Published by Hamish Hamilton, London

Literature’s Influence on Life

Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright most famously known for breaking the fourth wall to get a message across, famously stated, “Art is not a mirror held up to society but a hammer with which to shape it.” Albert Camus’s The Plague inhaled those words and exhaled a crafted piece exposing a devilish virus’s true cause in attempts to break a cycle.

The Plague (also known as La Peste in Camus’s native French) follows a narrator’s voice depicting the perspectives of a doctor, a traveling journalist, a hidden-away criminal, a Jesuit priest, a civil servant, and a vacationing outsider. These perspectives shape the emotional rollercoaster the plague follows throughout the novel, which sheds insight into the cause and effects of the disastrous epidemic, as well as how different members of society handle it. For some, the reaction is obvious. For example, the Jesuit priest relies on heavy prayer, worship, and faith. But, for the hidden-away criminal, it is not so straight-forward, as he finds peace in waiting for the universe to choose his sentencing rather than the people.

Author Albert Camus in 1944. Credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum

Examining Camus’s literary concept, one can easily spot interchangeable perspectives in our own world. There are the people aiming for an escape, like the traveling journalist, and those who realize they have taken love, life, and human connection for granted, just like the civil servant in the story. This explains the echo of the pandemic…but what is the cause?

Alone, together, we stand dumb-founded and shake fists to the universe for not presenting us with a mere warning, as Coronavirus torpedoes throughout our society with no remorse, killing innocent people, damaging the economy, and shattering our idea of ‘normal.’

Film adaptation of The Plague (1992) starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Robert Duvall. Credit: Compagnie Française Cinématographique (CFC)

But the truth is, we WERE warned. This is not the first virus we have seen. History, film, literature, and other art forms have covered this topic heavily. So, it’s a mystery why the whole of the world feels shocked and is acting oblivious and uneducated. We were given a clear warning. We chose this nightmare by not evolving, not respecting the inevitable, and therefore not taking preventative precautions.

Humans Are the Plague

The warning signs were oversized, consistent, and were presented in brightly colored neon, however, our elitist egos still disregarded them with a nonchalant, “it won’t happen to me.” By ignoring the transparent signals tossed our way, we have chosen our destiny, with full intent on continuing to play the role of the victim.

Workers disinfect a subway in Seoul, South Korea during the COVID-19 outbreak. Credit: Newsis / Associated Press

Today, during the peak days of Covid-19 rallying from city to city, we see the worst of the worst qualities coming from individuals we formerly deemed as “good neighbors.” The pride and opinions are strong and differing, and judgment is being thrown to every player like an All-Star basketball team. It is clear that humans are the real plague of the pandemic.

Much like the novel, we humans have created a world where no one is free from conviction doled out by their peers. In the story, faith fights the opinions of non-believers. Here, if you wear a mask in public or choose to self-quarantine, you are being overly cautious. On the other hand, if you are visiting family and friends or not employing the use of gloves, you are considered a reckless danger to society. For the parents who have no choice but to bring their children to the supermarket with them, child services will be getting a call from a non-informed observer.

Grocery shopping during a pandemic. Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/ Shutterstock

The frequent decrees of human behavior make up only a piece of the human plague puzzle. Along with the startling disregard for those neon signs, the media also has a hand in creating a destructive buzz. With mixed messages coming from “trusted” sources, it is inevitable that controversial emotional fires will spark in the form of confusion, name-calling, and scrutiny, only aiding timber to the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that society is already undergoing.

How Can We Move Forward?

With the fire already raging without pity, as we humans are the ones that created it, the initial concern of the pandemic is still rampant. So, how do we move ahead and return to our old ‘normals’?

Deserted New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Getty Images

Without diluting the affliction, we may never see our old ‘normals’ again. Although we will mourn the days of a carefree existence, we must find gratitude in the fact that this wave of a pandemic has given us a chance to evolve as humans. We have the opportunity to move into the future more observant, more inquisitive, and, most importantly, more kind and accepting. Our disorderly and sinful emotional footprint on the globe has made its mark, but with proper steps going forward we can change the shape of it. All we have to do is shut our mouths and listen.

About the Author

Laurie Riihimaki is a full-time freelance writer, investigative journalist, and the managing editor of several online magazines. She writes about an array of topics including health and wellness, sex and relationships, arts and culture, women’s issues, entertainment, beauty, fashion, and career life. Follow her on Twitter @LaRiihimaki.

Follow Manor Vellum on Twitter @ManorVellum and Instagram @manorvellum.

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A membrane of texts about the human condition within the horror genre. A MANOR feature.

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