The Plague The Plague discussion


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Existentialist Lessons?

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Matthew Holmes It's been a while since I first read The Plague, but in light of the current brouhaha over Ebola I went back and scanned through it again briefly. It seems that there are many interesting parallels between his society's behavior and the rampant fear that is sweeping some parts of the world currently. Just wondering what you all see and what you think? Should this book be required reading somewhere in education?


Florin Andrei I think it is a bit much for high school students. Not sure 'required reading' works very well with university students. Also, it doesn't seem like it's the sort of book that should be part of the mandatory cultural collective.

The nature of, and reaction to evil is discussed just as well in countless other instances.


Chrisl Matthew wrote: "It's been a while since I first read The Plague, but in light of the current brouhaha over Ebola I went back and scanned through it again briefly. It seems that there are many interesting parallel..."

Some high school age people would likely benefit from exposure. In a high school library, there should be multiple copies for teachers to suggest and students to discover and ponder.

In Why Teach, there is a fine example of an enlightened teacher including Camus in his discussions.
Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education


Matthew Holmes Florian - thanks for your thoughts...I can understand that the subject matter and character lines of the book are 'heavy' but in my secondary school years I had to read many books that dealt with difficult and dark subject matter (it was GAT coursework, but still)....if nothing else, I simply thought that there would be some insights to be had for kids who live on internet sensationalism as a primary source of 'education and information'

Chrisl - what you are mentioning is very interesting and more along the lines of what I was originally thinking...thanks for the link to the article; I'll definitely check it out :-)

I guess the real question I was getting at (and I'm not sure if it's answered in the article since I haven't read it yet) is whether the biases and psychology of the characters in The Plague would lend valuable perspective to todays impressional but tech-savvy younger generations who seem to take any information they come across as 'gospel'?


withdrawn I think that this is a rather good question Matthew. I'll make two points here:

First, to your question, I think that The Plague is quite appropriate for high school students. I first read it as an eighteen-year old high scool drop out and was greatly taken by it. Seventeen and eighteen year olds should be looking at who they are and how they fit into the world. Thinking about making moral decisions without pat answers being given is what they should be doing at that age. This book is a wonderful opportunity to start thinking about that without being patronizing to them. In terms of the ebola situation, the book is suddenly timely again. Although this was not Camus' intention, the plague situation is something to think about.

My second point is more pedantic on my part. It's your title, "Existentialist Lessons?" Camus never considered himself to be an existentialist and bristled at the suggestion. He never entered into Sartre's metaphysical world.(They detested each other.)_ He never discussed concepts like 'being-in-the-world', 'essentialism','existence prior to essence' and the like. He was not a metaphysician. His point was simply that our lives have no inherent meaning. (Following Nietzsche's death of god.)_ Our lives are basically absurd in the larger sense. As with the existentialists, meaning comes from the individual, but not as some philosophical execise. The doctor in The Plague is thoughtful but he is no philosopher. He makes a moral decision. Basically, if we are all to suffer without any reason, without any sense, then as human beings we should understand that everyone else suffers in the same absurd situation. If that is the case, our only meaning can be found in ourselves and through our fellow sufferers. That is how the doctor justifies his own life to himself.


Matthew Holmes RK-ique wrote: "Camus never considered himself to be an existentialist and bristled at the suggestion.."

RK-ique - thank you very much for brining up the second topic here :-) I actually cringed as I wrote the post title but, as I thought about it, Camus seems to fit into the 'general vein' of existentialism...although I suppose I certainly wouldn't have dared say it to his face if I'd ever had the chance to meet him personally, haha. Kidding aside, I think your point about finding meaning in ourselves through the meaning we find in others is key - I'm a major believer in contextual reality...that is to say that every situation 'reinvents' our understanding of the world in a way and, in each snapshot in time, we are almost purely an accumulation of our experiences.

IMHO both Camus and ReMarque had similar views on the general senselessness of the world and humans' limited ability (and need) to contextualize what was happening around them in order to have some meaning of self...I guess that's why these authors have such an influence on the way I think about life and the way that I write.

Anyway, thank you so much for opening up a very interesting avenue of discussion and thought and happy reading!


Colleen Browne RK-ique wrote: "I think that this is a rather good question Matthew. I'll make two points here:

First, to your question, I think that The Plague is quite appropriate for high school students. I first read it as..."

Camus also swore off of Catholicism but there are those who believe that in thought, if not in deed, he was a Catholic until the day he died. Once a Catholic; always a Catholic? As one who suffers this infliction, I am inclined to believe there is at least some truth in it.


R.a. The high school students of today, in some ways, are living in the time of a plague—the new surveillance state.

So, it seems fitting that Camus' great novel be up for inclusion in the curriculum.


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