The Plague

By Albert Camus



Symbolism works throughout The Plague on a variety of different levels; it is an allegory with a number of strands whilst also being a personal statement of belief. The plague itself can represent whatever the reader finds most objectionable or unendurable in human life, and is therefore subject to an infinite variety of symbolic interpretations:

French Occupation

Readers frequently interpret the plague as a symbol of the French Occupation. There is little doubt that the book was a tribute to his colleagues of the Resistance and all those who lived under the rule of totalitarian forces. Characters such as Rieux, Tarrou, Rambert and Grand bear striking parallels with Resistance fighters whilst Paneloux symbolises the Church's attitude to the war as a punishment for sin. France and Oran are sealed off from the world, food rationed, curfews imposed, and electricity scarce. Police lurk everywhere, hungrily patrolling the streets. The celebrations at the end are similar to that of the liberation of Paris. Yet the plague is a natural catastrophe for which men have no responsibility, it is a cruel and impersonal epidemic in stark contrast to the human brutality of the Occupation forces.

The Face of Death

Metaphorically, the plague represents the face of death confronting the inhabitants with their own mortality and dealing with the consequences. In this way, the plague represents anything that, like death, negates human effort or poisons the joy of living. Often referred to as an "abstraction", it threatens man's happiness and anything that is beyond their comprehension. Whilst the plague itself is not a direct representation of the Absurd, the extreme circumstances provoke the inhabitants of Oran to an experience of the Absurd by confronting them unexpectedly with death. Victims are compelled to come to terms with the most fundamental and basic conditions of life.


The plague also represents an interior infection, with the power of evil that can take firm hold of the human heart and make men enter into complicity with the "exterior" plague. This infection leads to lies, deceit, and duplicity - all the means by which a man may be contaminated and tricked into complicity with a world based on injustice. In this way the plague is an evil that we all carry within us and the analogy with the Occupation Forces is therefore all the more plausible. The suggestion that we possess an inner taint that corresponds to the cosmic disaster of the plague, working in collusion with it, the actions of the Occupation forces are more explicable. Tarrou however is the only character to refer to an "inner plague". To revolt against the plague is to deny any desire to contribute to the misfortunes of men and to comfort them in the miseries that may befall them.