French writer Albert Camus opens his novel, “The Plague”, with a description of the mundane flow of everyday life in the city of Oran. Camus was also born in the French Algerian city of Oran. In his 1947 novel, Camus tells how the “plague” changed people’s lives. In “The Plague,” Camus is actually symbolizing the invasion of France by “Nazis”, and also the atrocity France deemed worthy for the people of Algeria. In this context, the novel can be extended to numerous circumstances. The section in Camus’ “Notebooks” covering the years 1942-1951 contains notes concerning his work on this novel.
A passage in the first page of “The Plague,” in which Camus gives a description of his era, reads:
“Perhaps the easiest way of making a town's acquaintance is to ascertain how the people in it work, how they love, and how they die. In our little town (is this, one wonders, an effect of the climate? All three are done on much the same lines, with the same feverish yet casual air.”
Camus continues his novel with an incident that is not peculiar to the everyday flow of life in Oran. The incident is of the novel’s hero Doctor Bernard Rieux’s encounter with a rat in the apartment where his surgery is located. When he sees blood spurting out from the rat’s mouth in the evening, Dr. Rieux realizes something was odd. The concierge thinks the incident is a bad joke played by the youngsters in the neighborhood. Though dead rats are seen in many places around the city, nobody suspects a plague. Nobody thinks that these initials signs will lead to an epidemic, condemn the city to a deadly lockdown and change the course of life.
The novel characterizes people’s attitudes in the face of an epidemic within the course of unexpected events. Within this course are “good people,” “bad people,” and characters between these two, those who are almost in “limbo.” Dr. Rieux, who chooses to help the ailing in the city despite having the chance to visit his wife, whom is being treated in another town, symbolizes a self-sacrificing personality, while Cottard, a criminal who is inclined to suicide, symbolizes the exact opposite personality.
Cottard is an opportunist racketeer who makes personal profit from the plague. While Dr. Rieux strives for the plague to end and people to reach peace, Cottard hopes for the plague to continue. Eventually, the plague goes as it came and the resistance of the “good people” wins.
Albert Camus draws particular attention to the “educational” aspect of plagues related to people’s lives.
One of the reasons I mention Camus’ “The Plague” is the horrific carelessness we are witnessing despite the “early prediction” of the epidemic humanity is exposed to today. We are familiar with such epidemics for decades. Meanwhile, like the example of the increase in the price of antiseptic substances, we also saw “opportunists” who want to make gains from this epidemic. In such humanity cases, prices are expected to drop as low as possible, not increase. Opportunism is in no way compatible with the sense of belonging to a nation or community.
Communities remain standing with the solidarity they demonstrate during tribulating times. “Modern communities” are “risk communities.” Resisting against the risk together, sharing the difficulties is both a “human” and “national” duty. Epidemics are not a surprise for risk communities. The Johns Hopkins Center for Healthy Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill-Melinda Gates Foundation realized a simulation titled “Event 201” in October 2019 in New York, laying on the table the measures that need to be taken in the case of a likely epidemic. The epidemic that broke out in China appeared after the simulation.
It was obvious that the epidemic would progress. It was also already a known fact that viruses are the greatest threat to human life. Epidemics also have a mathematic to them. It is in our hands to ensure that this mathematic progresses against viruses. It is possible to minimize the risk with guidance from science. Meanwhile, we should be prepared from now for any future epidemics. We need to understand that civilized life has a cost.