Re-reading The Plague by Albert Camus and thought I’d start a pithy quotation thread. The Plague is a 1948 work of fiction that is said to be allegorical, but some of the passages are just so similar to what we’re going through now. Which is really the beauty of literature.
1) Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.
2) When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though a war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.
3) In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; …
4)…therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions.
5) Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views.
6) How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.
7) Indeed, even after Dr. Rieux had admitted in his friend’s company that a handful of persons, scattered about the town, had without warning died of plague, the danger still remained fantastically unreal.
8) “When a microbe,” Rieux said, “after a short intermission can quadruple in three days’ time the volume of the spleen, can swell the mesenteric ganglia to the size of an orange and give them the consistency of gruel, a policy of wait-and-see is, to say the least of it, unwise.”
9) “Judging by the rapidity with which the disease is spreading, it may well, unless we can stop it, kill off half the town before two months are out. That being so… The important thing is to prevent its killing off half the population of this town.”
10) Richard said it was a mistake to paint too gloomy a picture, and, moreover, the disease hadn’t been proved to be contagious; indeed, relatives of his patients, living under the same roof, had escaped it.
11) “But others have died,” Rieux observed. “And obviously contagion is never absolute… It’s not a question of painting too black a picture. It’s a question of taking precautions.”
12) “If we don’t make that declaration,” Rieux said, “there’s a risk that half the population may be wiped out… My point is that we should not act as if there were no likelihood that half the population would be wiped out; for then it would be.”
13) …once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat, and each would have to adapt himself to the new conditions of life.
14) Thus, for example, a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike and — together with fear — the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead.
15) One of the most striking consequences of the closing of the gates was, in fact, this sudden deprivation befalling people who were completely unprepared for it. Mothers and children, lovers, husbands and wives, who had a few days previously taken it for granted…
16) …that their parting would be a short one, who had kissed one another good-by on the platform and exchanged a few trival remarks, sure as they were of seeing one another again after a few days or, at most, a few weeks, duped by our blind human faith in the near future…
17) …and little if at all diverted from their normal interests by this leave-taking — all these people found themselves, without the least warning, hopelessly cut off, prevented from seeing one another again, or even communicating with one another.
18) It might indeed be said that the first effect of this brutal visitation was to compel our townspeople to act as if they had no feelings as individuals.
19) …the plague forced inactivity on them, limiting their movements to the same dull round inside the town, and throwing them, day after day, on the illusive solace of their memories. For in their aimless walks…
20) ..they kept on coming back to the same streets and usually, owing to the smallness of the town, these were streets in which, in happier days, they had walked with those who now were absent. | Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile.
21) It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile — that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.
22) It is noteworthy that our townspeople very quickly desisted, even in public, from a habit one might have expected them to form — that of trying to figure out the probable duration of their exile. The reason was this:
23) …when the most pessimistic had fixed it at, say, six months; … an article in a newspaper, a vague suspicion, or a flash of foresight would suggest that, after all, there was no reason why the epidemic shouldn’t last more than six months; why not a year, or even more?
24) At such moments the collapse of their courage, will- power, and endurance was so abrupt that they felt they could never drag themselves out of the pit of despond into which they had fallen.