The Plague by Albert Camus

 

Read during any other time in my life, I think Camus’ intuition on human sentiment would have been lost on me. There are many books wasted on the high school curriculum… yet many books that I have called upon at the right exact time.

This book has been sitting on my “to be read” pile for ages; it took the epidemic of our time, COVID-19, for me to pick it up. I feared it would be morose, focusing on the degradation of the body in the typical nihilist form. I was wrong and pleasantly surprised; the book is not about despair. It is the journey of questioning our faith, which some call God and others call humanity, and retaining hope. It is about craving human warmth while shunning human touch. So much is not said through the view points of the three men, but their love, friendship, dependency for one another is expressed in a silent smile seen above the surgical masks.

 

“Ten thousand dead equals five times the audience in a large cinema. That’s what you should do. You should get all the people coming out of five cinemas, take them to a square in town and make them die in a heap; then you would grasp it better. At least, one might put some known faces on this anonymous pile. But of course it would be impossible; apart from which, who knows ten thousand faces?”

 

“It was clear to see that spring had exhausted itself, giving of its bounty in the thousands of flowers to be seen everywhere around, and that now it was going to fade away, slowly crushed beneath the double weight of the plague and the heat.”

 

“The newspapers and the authorities are engaged in a battle of wits with the plague. They think that they are scoring points against it, because 130 is a lower figure than 910.”

 

“While up to this point they had fiercely subtracted their suffering from the sum of collective misfortune, now they accepted it as part of the whole. Without memory and without hope, they settled into the present. In truth, everything became present for them. The truth must be told: the plague had taken away from all of them the power of love or even of friendship, for love demands some future, and for us there was only the here and now.”

 

“ ‘You have no heart,’ someone once told him. But he did have one. He used it to bear the twenty hours a day in which he saw men dying who were made for life. He used it to start again day after day. For the time being, he had just enough heart for that. How could his heart have been big enough to give life?”

 

by Johanna Airth

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