Battle Against Crisis at the Conclusion of The Plague

March 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

The last two paragraphs of The Plague emphasize Camus’ belief that even during a crisis, humans must always fight against death even if that battle will be a constant struggle without victory. Rieux deems the stubborn and communal fight of man against death as the most essential element of human response to crisis. As he ends his narrative, he points out that his story was not one of his seemingly heroic decision to fight the plague, but was rather “only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror” (308). His emphasis on “only” indicates that he believes his response to the plague, and in a larger sense, to crises, is not exceptionally heroic, but is only natural, proper, and simply “common decency” (163). In addition, by choosing to use “had had” instead of just “had”, which would have not changed the apparent meaning of the sentence, Rieux further stresses the necessity of a persistent struggle against death. He continues his sentence with additional words, “assuredly” and “would have” that also highlight his belief in fighting against death. Though he knows that the battle against death will be “never ending” (308), he still urges humans to put aside “their personal afflictions” (308) and “[refuse] to bow down to pestilences” (308). By “personal afflictions”, Rieux means hardships that affect only the individual; therefore, according to Rieux, in a time of crisis, humans should not worry greatly about their individual suffering, but about the suffering of humankind. The fight against death requires the effort of the whole community and the individual’s willingness to help others. His use of “bow down” conjures up an image of a tyrannical ruler, the plague, attempting to repress his people. Natural human response to such a ruler is not one of submission, but is rather one of resistance, and through this image, Rieux further underscores the need for humans to resist the ubiquitous domination and oppression of crises. Rieux believes that times of crisis and terror are inevitable in life, no matter how strong human resistance is. Throughout the novel and especially in the last paragraph, the plague has served as a metaphor for crisis, and all the pain, death, and fear associated with crisis. The plague, like crisis, “never dies or disappears for good” (308) but is only suppressed. Rieux’s use of such an extreme word, “never,” suggests that he firmly considers the plague as an omnipresent horror that can suddenly invade human society and just as suddenly retreat. The plague can hide in any ordinary object and “lie[s] dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests, [biding] its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves” (308). The long list of household furniture accentuates the multitude of places in human society the plague can hide in and just how pervasive the plague is. Similarly, crisis can conceal itself within any facet of society, until something triggers it to come out of hiding. Rieux also describes the plague as “[biding] its time”, almost attributing to it an image of a calculating monstrosity. Humans, however, are completely ignorant of the nature of the plague’s calculations, until “it [rouses] up its rats again and send[s] them forth to die in a happy city”. The irony in Rieux’s ending statement is both striking and awful: unknown to the “happy” people, the plague has always been secretly planning its next attack on society. Plague, like any crisis, can never be prevented; all humans can do is fight it when it does come. Rieux contends that while life during crisis is void of true emotion, one can find comfort in human warmth, friendship, and love through a willingness to relentlessly fight against that crisis. Rambert spends the first month of the plague searching for a way to escape Oran and reunite with his wife, who is outside the town. Slowly, his search becomes a desire for escape, no longer driven on not by love for his wife. Like many other residents of Oran, his love becomes merely “an inert mass within” them that bears no real meaning. In contrast, Rieux and Tarrou, who are the forefront of the struggle against the plague, can retain their feeling of true friendship. Together, they overcome obstacles, hardships, together fighting against the plague. Even in the face of certain death, they maintain their true friendship: Rieux himself cares for Tarrou, Rieux tells Tarrou exactly how Tarrou’s condition is progressing, and during Tarrou’s last moments, Rieux’s eyes flooded with tears, symbolic of their strong bond that extends all the way up to their dying minute. Though crisis can bring widespread fear into a society, one must never give in to that fear, choosing to fight with and for each other.

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