Reality in Fiction : The Plague

the plague main

Happy Monday, readers! Hopefully the last few weeks has you reaching for some good books to help you escape from the moment when you need it. Although this might not seem like a pleasant escape, The Chic Void has been reading, The Plague by Albert Camus. The Plague is a fictitious story about a disease that swept through the French Algerian city of Oran, first starting in rats and eventually moving on to humans. Sometimes finding things that are most similar to the present can help us all feel like, this too will pass.

Here’s an excerpt from The Plague, (part I) when Dr. Bernard Rieux is evaluating the situation at hand:

–Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

In fact, like our fellow citizens, Rieux was caught off his guard, and we should understand his hesitations in the light of this fact; and similarly understand how he was torn between conflicting fears and confidence. When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though a war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves. 

In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to a man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions. Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences. 

Indeed, even after Dr. Rieux had admitted in his friend’s company that a handful of persons, scattered about the town, had without warning died of plague, the danger still remained fantastically unreal. For this simple reason that, when a man is a doctor, he comes to have his own ideas of physical suffering, and to acquire somewhat more imagination than the average. Looking from his window at the town, outwardly quite unchanged, the doctor felt little more than a faint qualm for the future, a vague unease. 

He tried to recall what he had read about the disease. Figures floated across his memory, and he recalled that some thirty or so great plagues known to history had accounted for nearly a hundred million deaths. But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has served in a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. And since a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination. The doctor remembered the plague at Constantinople that, according to Procopius, caused ten thousand deaths in a single day. Ten thousand dead made about five times the audience in a biggish cinema. Yes, that was how it should be done. You collect the people at the exits of five picture-houses, you should lead them to a city square and make them die in heaps if you wanted to get a clear notion of what it means. Then at least you could add some familiar faces to anonymous mass. But naturally that was impossible to put into practice; moreover, what man knows ten thousand faces? In any case the figures of those old historians, like Procopius, weren’t to be relied on; that was common knowledge. Seventy years ago, at Canton, forty thousand rats died of plague before the disease spread to the inhabitants. But, again, in the Canton epidemic there was no reliable way of counting up the rats. A very rough estimate was all that could be made, with, obviously, a wide margin for error. “Let’s see,” the doctor murmured to himself, “supposing the length of a rat to be ten inches, forty thousand rats placed end to end would make a line of…”–

This excerpt is important for many reasons, but for the sake of today and dealing with Corona virus, the beginning of the passage is most important as it relates to the townsfolk, or as Camus puts them, “humanists” carrying on like normal. Today, there are townsfolk/humanists acting like this Corona virus is some fantastical situation that doesn’t apply to them. Here’s a piece of advice to all those “humanists” out there, just because you might not take this seriously doesn’t mean your neighbor, roommate, friend or lover feels the same way. This time is going to bring a lot of things to the surface for everyone, and one thing that might come up is selfishness. This is not the time to be selfish and carry on like nothing applies to you. This is a time to find stillness, and listen to your neighbor and start thinking as if you are a part of the whole, because believe it or not, we never were not part of the whole!

Stay safe, stay selfless, stay healthy and stay home.

 

2 Comments

  1. Never afraid to voice your truth, found this post in my inbox right when I needed it most! Thank you for the excerpt and advice 😉 Keep sharing!!

    Like

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