Dr. Rieux’s Fight Against the Plague
This paper seeks to discuss novel The Plague written by French author Albert Camus. The novel tells us about the plague epidemic in the large Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s. The main character is Dr. Bernard Rieux, a surgeon who heals people and is the first to diagnose the unknown disease as the plague. Nevertheless, the doctor is powerless before this illness which kills more than 10 people every day (Camus, 1965).
Even though Bernard has a chance to leave Oran and join his wife, he refuses to do so because in his view human existence is absurd, and ignorance can lead to chaos. Dr. Rieux realizes that his job is simply to fight death with all available methods. He often speaks about duty and logical responsibility but does not clearly mention what his reasons are.
Therefore, Rieux stays in Oran to struggle with the plague with all his abilities and strength. He is one of the first to prompt people to take strict sanitation measures to overcome the rising epidemic. When quarantine is put in Oran, Dr. Rieux continues to battle the plague persistently despite the fact that all his efforts are useless. Although his wife is far away from the town, Bernard does not allow his feelings to divert him from his struggle to ease consequences of the epidemic wrought on the confused and terrified population of Oran. Nevertheless, doctor did not choose the medical profession because of heroism and does not consider his actions to be heroic. He battles death and illness because he has been taught to do it. He deems his life to have a value only if he keeps on helping others resist death and become healthy again. Dr. Rieux understood all the essence of being a doctor when he saw his patient’s death for the first time. At his own risk, he walks every day to the center of the fatal disease to protect lives. Although the measures against the plague seem to be of no use, he refuses to accept death. Dr. Rieux gives sense to his life when deciding to acknowledge the absurdity of his actions; his fight against disease is a never-ending defeat and refusal and inactivity would be more appropriate. Nevertheless, he believes that unavoidable death should not be a deterrent to living a life full of activities and luminous reasoning (Camus, 1965).
During the last stages of the plague, Dr. Rieux repents showing little feelings. Rieux's exhaustion and tears when Tarrou dies are needful for a proper explanation of his character. In the chronicle, he says that people told him about the way they felt, and it cannot be regarded as a personal confession. The doctor simply tries to be distinctly human and does not detach himself and his duty from that of every man.
Rieux considers that the problem of human disability to take in others’ sufferings affects not only the city of Oran, but the whole world. He says that the only proper solution is to gather corpses in the foreground, and only in that case people will realize that, in fact, those dead men are human beings.
Grand, Tarrou, and Rambert are other characters of the novel who participate in the fight against the plague. They are not doctors but try to imitate Rieux who is desperate in the struggle. The doctor does his duty as a doctor but ignores his family obligation because he does not care about his wife (Camus, 1965).
Actually Rieux himself does not know whose duty he performs. Sometimes, he does not even realize why he follows this particular way. Bernard tells Rambert that he is doing everything without realizing the essence of his deeds. When Cottard asks the doctor if a man can be detained while he is in hospital or whether it is fair for an arrested man to be exploited, Rieux replies that he does not know for sure and it depends on the situation. The doctor claims that he wants to protect the residents of Oran but has no idea against whom.
Surely, doctor’s responses reveal that Rieux is naive and hesitant. Nevertheless, he is reasonable because he does not pretend to possess knowledge that is not actually his. Being the narrator, Rieux maintains that people’s unawareness of their own ignorance is detrimental; when something happens, such people do not strive to learn further and thus are a hopeless case.
Rieux urges the authorities to take measures when the plague outbursts at the first time. Realizing the vainness of words, Rieux concentrates on language. He says that no matter whether the disease is called the plague so long as people act as it is the plague. Camus clearly depicts Rieux as the voice of prudence among others, at least in this part of the novel.
Camus’s ideas are also revealed through Rieux’s dialogs with Father Paneloux. The doctor says that his deals stem from his atheism. He explains that, since God does not exist and will not protect people, they must do it themselves. This is in accordance with the ideas of humanism. Nonetheless, the doctor fights with humanism throughout the whole novel. He decides that he has to stiffen his heart to the reality of anguish in order to do his work every day. Furthermore, on the other hand, he cannot live alone in a universe of thoughts. It is quite difficult, and the stress it causes is evident for most of the novel.
In conclusion, it can be said that Rieux should be associated with all those trenchant remarks the narrator makes in the novel. We have to understand that it is Albert Camus speaking on behalf of the main character Dr. Bernard Rieux. Camus reflects his own thoughts and ideas revealing them in his novel when depicting the city Oran with the sudden outburst of the plague. No wonder that the protagonist is a doctor who is strangely hesitant and does not aspire be a hero protecting people from death.
- Camus, A. (1965). The Plague. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.