Albert Camus' the Plague

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Hopelessness in Albert Camus' The Plague and Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Does Existentialism deny the existence of God? Can God possibly exist in a world full of madness and injustice? Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett address these questions in The Plague and Waiting for Godot. Though their thinking follows the ideals of existentialism, their conclusions are different.

Camus did not believe in God, nor did he agree with the vast majority of the historical beliefs of the Christian religion. His stance on Christianity is summed up most simply by his remark that "in its essence, Christianity (and this is its paradoxical greatness) is a doctrine of injustice. It is founded on the sacrifice of the innocent and the acceptance of this sacrifice" (Bree 49). Camus felt that Jesus Christ was an innocent man who was unjustly killed. This does conflicts with all of Camus' values. However, Camus did not believe that Jesus was the son of God.

Camus' inability to accept Christian theology is voiced in The Plague by Riex and juxtaposed against the beliefs preached by Father Paneloux (Rhein 42). Paneloux's attitude toward the plague contrasts sharply with Rieux's. In his first sermon, he preaches that the plague is divine in origin and punitive in its purpose. He attempts to put aside his desires for a rational explanation and simply accepts God's will. In this way he is not revolting and therefore falls victim to the plague.

Father Paneloux's belief that there are no innocent victims is shaken as he watches a young boy die of the plague. Camus purposefully describes a long, painful death to achieve the greatest effect on Paneloux: "When the spasms had passed, utterly exhausted, tensing his thin legs and arms, on which, within forty-eight hours, the flesh had wasted to the bone, the child lay flat, in a grotesque parody of crucifixion" (215). Paneloux cannot deny that the child was an innocent victim and is forced to rethink his ideas.

During his second...
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