[from] The Plague
by Albert Camus
[In a fictional account of a plague epidemic in Algeria during the 1940s, Camus describes the destruction of relationship, feeling, hope, and other essential elements of human nature when the scourge of the disease, believed to be contagious, overtakes the town.
At the early stages of the outbreak, Dr. Rieux is unable to persuade the authorities to be honest with the people about what is happening. Finally, it becomes obvious and the town’s society breaks down. Dr. Rieux never gives up his efforts to relieve the suffering of the sick, despite his own growing sense of futility and loss of the ability to care.]
“Lifting the coverlet and chemise, he gazed in silence at the red blotches on the girl’s thighs and stomach, the swollen ganglia. After one glance, the mother broke into shrill, uncontrollable cries of grief. And every evening mothers wailed thus, with distraught abstraction, as their eyes fell on those fatal stigmata on limbs and bellies; every evening hands gripped Rieux’s arms, there was a rush of useless words, promises and tears; every evening the nearing tocsin of the ambulance provoked scenes as vain as every form of grief. Rieux had nothing to look forward to but a long sequence of such scenes, renewed again and again. Yes, plague, like abstraction, was monotonous; perhaps only one factor changed, and that was Rieux himself. Standing at the foot of the statue of the Republic that evening, he felt it; all he was conscious of was a bleak indifference steadily gaining on him as he gazed at the door of the hotel…”
The Plague, by Albert Camus, 1947. Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert. Copyright © 1948 by Stuart Gilbert; renewed in 1975 by Stuart Gilbert