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Heroes shinning through in albert camus novel the plague

  1. Rieux, the doctor who can limit the plague's ravages but can no longer heal, the mysterious Tarrou, who has crusaded against the death penalty,...
  2. Social work education would gain in human depth and relevance were it to include the study not only of Camus' novel, which is of particular relevance to AIDS, but of other works which are pertinent to more generic situations faced by practising social workers.
  3. For example, in medicine, Sir William Osler 6 Cushing, 1925 is often cited as an exemplar of the humanistic physician 7.

Meetings of the Society for Health and Human Values, representing a range of academics and practising nurses, medical social workers, pastoral care workers and physicians, regularly feature poets, dramatists and writers of fiction. Interdisciplinary symposia on death, dying and bereavement have included such artists; and, recently, prominent meetings concerned with AIDS have presented similar work.

It is becoming increasingly clear that helping professionals need not only appropriate knowledge and specific skills, they also need qualities of moral excellence, or what we used to call virtues - the strength of character to face up to highly charged work situations.

Evoking the concrete and experiential, the arts often focus in a concentrated way on the moral dimensions and qualities of real situations and people. By stimulating the emotions and promoting serious reflection, they can help us to acquire the strength of character that is needed. It vividly portrays human dilemmas which characterize not only the AIDS epidemic but also more general professional situations.

As it triggers reflection on these, the novel also presents models of that strength of character which is needed to face them in a continuing way. First the rats come above ground to die and then the people fall ill and cannot be cured. The authorities are helpless and the population despairs. A group of men band together to combat the plague: Rieux, the doctor who can limit the plague's ravages but can no longer heal, the mysterious Tarrou, who has crusaded against the death penalty.

Panelous, the Jesuit for whom the plague is a trial of his faith. The group sets up special hospitals and vaccinates people until the plague disappears as suddenly as it has come. Paneloux and Tarrou have died while Rieux is left to tell the story.

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First, it is an engrossing narrative. Rieux, who tells the tale, is presented as a scrupulous observer of "the facts" who takes pains to establish the credibility of his account in a way which is almost "scientific". Camus was a member of the French resistance.

He was painfully aware of the heroes shinning through in albert camus novel the plague choices forced upon people when heroes shinning through in albert camus novel the plague face severe limits to their usual freedoms. He saw the possibilities for moral degeneracy inherent in such situations but also their potential to stimulate growth in personal and human dignity.

Much as the social sciences have tried to transform the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad into morally neutral notions in a world and in humanity viewed with dispassionate abstraction; and much as we have learned from the attempt, it has not been impossible to rid many of the sense there is a purpose to be found in human life, and that events which are in harmony with that purpose are "good", those in disharmony bad; that actions freely chosen and intended to be in conjunction with this are right and that the opposite are wrong; and that human beings have the responsibility to choose the former rather than the latter.

In human action and in society, evil emerges as much from intended good as from intended evil, often inescapable despite the best of intentions 4 Camus, 1960 p110. He asks in consequence: How can we orient ourselves to the inevitability of evil? Must we yield to it or can we act to maintain our integrity, to choose the good, in spite of it? In modern times, the professions have recognized the necessity of role models and have also had their heroes celebrated in popular biographies and autobiographical works.

For example, in medicine, Sir William Osler 6 Cushing, 1925 is often cited as an exemplar of the humanistic physician 7. Understanding the realities rather than the myths of such lives in social, cultural and professional context, studying their character strengths and weaknesses and the reasons for these can help the practitioner tease out what is worthy of emulation, what can and cannot be applied to him or herself, in his or her own situation.

It is my view that more of such study should be promoted in professional education. But along with this, the study of fictional characters in appropriate situations can also be of use. An author's creative imagination and artistic skill, dealing with approriate situations can often touch the reader more profoundly than a biographer or autobiographer's concern with establishing facts.

His identity as narrator is not revealed until the book's conclusion, it would seem, in order that the author might allow the character to distance himself from his feelings in telling the tale, and in describing Rieux's role within it. The ability to achieve such detachment and distance while remaining fully engaged in action is perhaps the first strength which Camus shows us in Rieux, both as narrator of the story and as participant in its events.


In this, we see a health-social service professional fully capable of placing the evils of the plague in the perspective of history and sociological analysis while remaining engaged in the attempt to eradicate that evil, or at least mitigate the suffering it causes. As the story goes on, we find Rieux both as narrator and participant attempting to place the town's evolving understanding of and mobilization against the plague in historical and sociological context.

His analyses yield insight which he then uses in planning his own work and in his post-plague reflections. Rieux first sees a phase of "denial". Initial problems are either ignored or explained away both by public officials and the "man in the street". When symptoms and rising mortality become incontrovertible, public and official concern is finally expressed.

Bureaucrats attempt to calm the populace and take cautious first steps. Finally, when the symptoms and statistics can no longer be minimized, a state of plague is pronounced and more drastic measures taken. The people persist in their denial and protest curbs on their freedom. However, the town finally acknowledges its situation and settles into a long siege, coping with the death or exile quarantine of loved ones and the poisoning of life's daily pleasures.

People try to compensate. They resort to bacchanals or superstition or "false" prophecy. Opportunists respond by profiteering; others with generous service.

After many months, the plague subsides, then disappears. Again we see denial, hope against hope for the end while fearing disappointment. The plague is officially declared "over". Emergency measures are revoked. There are reunions and great rejoicing. Life returns with renewed meaning. While describing these phases, Rieux reflects upon them and upon his own reactions. He looks to history and to social analysis for understanding while heroes shinning through in albert camus novel the plague stressing the FACTS of his observatons, the symptoms, the deaths.

Analytically recognizing the need for denial in himself and others, he stubbornly and professionally stresses what his knowledge tells him in the case, and what needs to be done. A man who can read the signs of the times, identify the facts, the biological, psychological and social realities of plague. He understands his reactions to these as well as those of society, of government, and of the population at large. He takes these into account and builds his professional strategies accordingly.

Rieux's analytic capacity is always working, in dialogue with his observations and emotions. Even if it isn't plague, the prophylactic measures enjoyned by law for coping with a state of plague should be put into force immediately? My point is that we should not act as if there were no likelihood that half the population wouldn't be wiped out, for then it would be.

  • In La Peste, however, absurdity is a source of value, values and even action;
  • People try to compensate;
  • But beyond this, Camus' novel indicates the broader educational potential of other artistic work;
  • The hero of the plague - dr rieux or tarrou and, by the way, are we the only two interested in albert camus perhaps the poly-heroism in the novel is camus' larger point:

Some minutes later, as he was driving down a back street redolent of fried fish and urine, a woman screaming in agony, her groin dripping blood, stretched out her arms toward him. Fortitude is another of the traditionally defined virtues; courage or the ability to face up to pain or adversity.

Before the plague's epidemic character became clear we find Rieux voicing the following thoughts: Finally, he realized what it meant; simply that he was afraid". Despite his fear and as the plague settles into its gruesome routine, Rieux faces up to his responsibilities, organizing the day to day work of "sanitary teams", diagnosing suspected cases at home, making sure that they are separated from their healthy relatives, quarantining the latter, caring for the stricken, in hospital, in their convalenscence or more likely during the agonies of their death.

The constants are long hours and exhaustion, the ongoing frustration of an inability to prevent, cure, or even alleviate suffering.

Even ordinary human emotions become traps in the deadly routine of his work: After one glance, the mother broke into shrill, uncontrollable cries of grief. And every evening mothers wailed thus. Rieux had nothing to look forward to but a long sequence of such scenes, renewed again and again. Rieux had learnt that he need no longer steel himself against pity.

One grows out of pity when it's useless. And in this feeling that his heart had slowly closed in on itself, the doctor found a solace, his only solace, for the almost unendurable burden of his days. This, he knew, would make his task easier, and therefore he was glad of it".

  • When symptoms and rising mortality become incontrovertible, public and official concern is finally expressed;
  • Camus, Plague, 278 As Rieux reflects earlier in the novel, war and plague are not a regular part of the human experience, yet the tendency toward ignorance and violence are ever-present within every mind.

And so, Rieux bears up, shows fortitude, courage and persistence in the face of adversity through the support of wisdom gained in confronting openly what he sees as the evils of the world; the data, or "facts" of evil. Further, he responds to these facts with generosity, charity or a sense of service which he then cultivates and reinforces through his persistence or fortitude.

These virtues or strengths reinforce one another. Perhaps, they are all aspects of an underlying strength that manifests itself in different ways. Rieux's charity or sense of service, as part of the above, his willingness to work on behalf of others, to help the helpless 16 Fowler and Fowler, eds.

Rieux asks Tarrou why he is exposing himself to a more than normal risk of infection: Tarrou turns the question on Rieux himself. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you'd need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind to give in tamely to the plague. Tarrou prods him further.

How can you act, if there is no absolute or divine guarantee that you're right. As the story's narrator, Rieux continues to reflect on his reasons, and on those of the volunteers like Tarrou, for risking themselves for others. His reflections extend the above.

Heroes shinning through in albert camus novel the plague

He takes no great credit, finds nothing particularly admirable about it. It is merely a logical act in the face of the facts. The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation.

And to do this there was only one resource: There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical". And yet, Rieux seems to recognize that there is merit in having 'chosen to be a schoolmaster', and further merit in concluding not to give in to the plague or "evil". Later, he notes in a conversation with another friend: It's a matter of common decency. That's an idea that may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is - common decency'.

But in my case I know that it consists in doing by job'". Rieux, at least implicitly, comes to agree with the notion that there is merit, or strength in what he has called common decency, although in this recognition he illustrates another virtue, that of humility. He also indicates that it must be cultivated.