What Camus Sees: The Plague Within
The stoic Dr. Rieux is, however, a protoypical Camus character - seemingly devoid of emotion, trudging forward to accept fate, but with conscious free will. Is he a good man? His deeds would suggest a positive response; the good doctor works himself to the bone in the service of his neighbors. Yet his efforts are hopeless, and he is constantly aware of that painful fact. Still, there are no outbursts, no tears, no violent episodes of self-examination.
Over at Tales from the Reading Room, blogger litlove ponders Dr. Rieux and finds him a blank slate - in some ways, the bland stand-in for society itself, an empty page to be filled by events.
If Dr Rieux is what we might call the hero in this book itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because he can find a way to witness the atrocity of a childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suffering and keep on relentlessly fighting the plague. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of CamusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cold fish; he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be drawn into discussing what the plague means, he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t predict its progress, and he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t waste his energy on compassion for the dying. At first he seems a bit repellent, but then his constant repetition that he must do his job and his tireless attempts to cure the sick and to co-opt the healthy into community work confers upon him a kind of authentic nobility. Rieux recognizes that concerns and anxieties beyond the immediate limits of his role are misplaced and ultimately self-indulgent. His quiet devotion to his duty, and the terrible personal losses he will suffer make him a profoundly moving character.
Last year, President Bush famously discussed his summer reading list, which included The Stranger - pretty much a high school reading list standard. It's a solitary tale, the equivalent of Crime and Punishment in the Dostoevsky playlist. I always preferred the vast ensemble works though: The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot, for example. The Plague is in the latter class. It's a rich read, and will stay with me for a while. It's a portrait of perseverance in the face of an unending, deadly misery. President Bush would have done better to invest in its long, difficult story.