Is the Plague an Existentialist Novel

Essay by abbers93 November 2014

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Abigail Jones

Steven Felder

Humanities 4

October 27, 2014

Is 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...