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Compare and contrast the different attitudes to the plague taken by Dr Rieux, Rambert and the priest Paneloux, and consider their relationship to Camus’ thought, in the novel La Peste[1].

The three characters – Dr Rieux, Rambert the Parisian journalist and the priest Paneloux – all have different views and approach the Plague in their separate ways. However we are not told by Camuswhich of these attitudes is the ‘correct’ one. He does not reveal to the reader until the end of the novel who the narrator is, so that we would not feel obliged to view his actions as the just ones. Instead we are guided by the author to make our own decision, by the way in which he clearly sets out what the different characters believe, and how their judgments and principles alter through thecourse of the novel.

The narrator makes us feel sympathy towards Rambert as we are made aware that his situation is worsened by the fact that he does not belong in the town. People like him “were cut off from the person with whom they wanted to be and from their homes as well. In the general exile they were the most exiled”. It is because of this that Rambert wants to run away because he doesnot feel that the Plague has anything to do with him. However he feels he has to justify his actions to Rieux, and we realise that the journalist does not want be viewed as a coward, instead he wishes to be viewed as honourable, as he is fighting for happiness and for love.

“But if man isn’t capable of a great emotion, well, he leaves me cold…What interests me is living and dying forwhat one loves” (page 157)

Although Rieux states that he agrees with Rambert, and therefore would not attempt to make him change his mind, he does however show a less romantic notion himself; by stating that the only way in which he believes fighting the Plague is possible is through “common decency”. In fact Rieux gives a rare insight into his feeling, and we can note that he is a rationalthinker as he states, when asked what he means by this:

“I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.” (page 158)

Therefore we can note how although Rieux declares that Rambert’s putting love first is not wrong, but for Rieux himself the only way in which he can survive this turbulent period is by doing his job. Yet Rambert is portrayedas an egotistical character at this point as not only is it obvious that he is only thinking of himself, but also he has the arrogance to assume that no one else could possibly understand – he even states: “…But I doubt you can understand”, when discussing how he is leaving the town to be with the woman he loves, as he believes that the doctor is incapable of experiencing such feeling. HoweverRieux does understand as he and his wife have been separated, as she is in a sanatorium out of the city, and it is only when Rambert realises this that he decides to help the doctor until he leaves the town. From this moment onwards the journalist slowly begins to alter his view, until he finally decides not to leave the city at all. The justification for this decision was not a result of hisviews changing, but instead he would feel ashamed of himself, and this would “embarrass his relations with the woman he loved”, and he felt that he was part of the city now and could not turn his back on it. Nonetheless, Rambert becomes frustrated when Rieux does not appreciate this verdict, and angrily asks him:

“Have you made a definite choice, and turned down happiness?” (page199)

Rieux’sreply is a further example of his philosophy as he states that he does not know. He is turning his back on what he loves yet he does not know why. Instead he focuses on curing people as this is “the more urgent job”.

The character of Paneloux is probably the one which alters the most through the course of the novel, as his ideas and beliefs almost completely turn around. Our first major...
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