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The Plague

Albert Camus

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Summary

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, Algeria. His father was killed in World War I at the battle of Marne. Although his family was impoverished, Camus went on to attend university in Algiers. He paid the expenses of his education with various odd jobs until a severe attack of tuberculosis forced him to drop out. His writing is greatly influenced by the poverty and illness of his youth. He also wrote extensively about the conditions of poverty in Algeria while working as a journalist for an anti- colonialist newspaper.

During World War II, Camus went to Paris and joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement. It was in wartime Paris that Camus developed his philosophy of the absurd--the assertion that life ultimately has no rational meaning. While the philosophy of Camus' fiction often tends to imply that no moral order actually has a rational basis, Camus himself did not act with moral indifference. Rather, since Camus does not draw a direct correlation between the lack of hope and despair, his philosophy can best be characterized as a form of optimism without hope . The absurd hero is a hero because he achieves the ultimate rebellion--that which resists the illusion of a rational order while also resisting despair.

Throughout his life, Camus was deeply concerned with the problem of human suffering in an indifferent world. In The Plague, Camus addresses the collective response to catastrophe when a large city in Algeria is isolated due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Although the effort to alleviate and prevent human suffering seems to make little or no difference in the ravages of the plague, Camus asserts that perseverance in the face of tragedy is a noble struggle even if it ultimately fails to make an appreciable difference. Such catastrophes test the tension between individual self-interest and social responsibility.

Camus' philosophy borrows a lot of ideas from the Existentialist movement. Similar to the Existentialists, Camus asserted that there is no intrinsic rational or moral meaning in human existence. However, his body of work suggests that within every human being there is an innate capacity for good, although many people never fully realize their potential. Camus often challenged the validity of accepted moral paradigms, but he did not view the human character as a moral vacuum. Camus won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957. On January 4, 1960, he was killed in an automobile accident in Southern France.

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