Tuesday, September 13, 2011
For Camus, understanding the Absurd is to confront the meaninglessness of life. Death is a certainty, but we must act as though life has meaning. Our only salvation from this despair and nihilism comes through taking responsibility for our lives. Living the Absurd comes down to these tenets:
1. To confront the meaninglessness of life
2. Recognizing it is cowardly to kill oneself (we must live between hope and suicide)
3. We must act as if life had meaning (with "clown-like" distractions)
4. Continue walking the tightrope between these extremes and we accept full responsibility for our lives
Life without meaning
Camus said that "Life will be more fully lived in so far as it has no meaning". Now man can "live out his adventure within the confines of his own lifetime" and recognize the "optimism without hope".
We are not abandoning ourselves to despair, but recognizing the futility of our existence. We are in a sense living a much more fulfilled life. To illustrate these, Camus uses the the Myth of Sisyphus.
Much of the novel focuses on how medical workers and common people adapt to this plague: the changes in society, the loss of freedom and the constant reminder of our mortality. The ability of these people to accept or ignore death can help them survive. It also sums up Camus's own philosophy of why we keep living when our own survival is finite. The difference here is that your death is not 40-60 years down the road, but right in front of you.
Dr. Bernard Rieux, the main character and narrator, is the first to recognize the plague in Oran. His wife left before the plague arrived and is therefore separated from him following the quarantine. Rieux spends the novel providing assistance to the sick and dying.
Father Paneloux tells the citizens that the plague is an act of God punishing them for their sinful nature. Many citizens flock to the churches. "But where some saw abstraction others saw the truth." However, as the plague worsens, Paneloux becomes disillusioned about why his god would allow such more suffering. Eventually Paneloux dies as well.
Cottard tries to commit suicide during the opening of the novel. Later, as the plague arrives, Cottard becomes a wealthy smuggler adapting well to his circumstances. However, when when the plague receedes, Cottard is unable to re-adjust to living in normal society.
Jean Tarrou is vacationing in Oran when the plague strikes, trapping him in the city. He is a stoic man and become a friend and helper for Dr. Rieux.
Rambert is a young journalist visiting Oran who is also trapped in the city following the quarantine. He seeks to escape so he can be reunited with his wife in Paris. However he begins to feel guilty about leaving Rieux and others in the city and changes his mind.
Struggling against the inevitable
Tarrou says in a sense we are all plague stricken with the desperate weariness of life. The key is to try and not infect others and keep ourselves busy with life's little distractions.