The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Symbols



The weather is a constant source of imagery in The Plague. The seasons progress from spring to summer to fall, with both seasonable and unseasonable weather. Rain, wind, and hot, stifling weather all add to the atmosphere of Oran. No matter the weather, the people of Oran act as though it holds meaning, and in doing so, impose their own desire for meaning on this indifferent and unpredictable force. They imagine the hot weather reflects the heat of the plague's fevers or that wind will spread the plague. They are suspicious of weather that, in happier times, would mean a day at the beach. As much as humans want to find meaning in the weather, it is, like the universe, indifferent to the plague and to all human suffering.


The rats are the first sign of the plague's onset and a sign the plague is on its way out. At the beginning of the novel, their deaths foreshadow the human deaths that follow. The random assortment of dead rats that litters the town shows the plague strikes randomly, without regard for public or private space. Ignoring the rats, then taking ineffective measures against them, becomes a representation of the incompetence and denial that plague the town authorities. At the end of the novel, their return signals the end of the plague. In this way, the rats foretell the human condition rather than threaten it.


The plague comes to represent other sources of suffering and alienation. First and foremost, it is an allegory for the rise of Nazi Germany and the suffering that happened during World War II. The rise of the plague among a population unprepared for it is like the rise of fascism in Europe and the ineffective response to its dangers. The destruction and death caused by the plague is likened to the destruction of war. Lovers are parted, and even those who are reunited are changed forever. People finally band together to fight, but the struggle is an impossible one, affording a small victory but no "final" victory. Yet, Camus stresses the need for people to continue to fight (both plague and fascism), regardless of whether they can hope for victory.

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