In this paper, I would like to discuss such character of Camus’ novel The Plague as Joseph Grand. Although it is too early for me to advance any far-fetched arguments, I can say that Joseph is very much similar to Sisyphus; he becomes accustomed to the routine nature of daily life, and his existence reminds us of Sisyphus’ attempts to roll a rock to the top of the mountain.
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Albert Camus creates this character to show that the majority of modern people do not strive for intellectual or spiritual development, while focusing on the material side of their lives.
If they do decide to make a difference to their existence, their attempts are usually very superficial. Another purpose which Grand serves is to prove that as a rule people do not search for good qualities within themselves, and only a sudden misfortune can force them to do it. In order to elaborate this argument, I need to discuss the behavior of this man, his relations with others and, most importantly, those expectations, he sets for himself.
At first, one has to show how the author describes this person. Camus points out that “ambition was not the spur that activated Joseph Grand… All he desired was the prospect of a life suitable insured on the material side by honest work” (Camus, 56). This indicates that he was quite content with his status in community and the quality of his life. In part, this lack of ambition explains why he has served his entire life as a clerk and why his wife left him.
It should also be noted that Grand also attempts to write a book, most probably, a novel. However, he never even finishes the first line of this alleged masterpiece. In his defense, Conrad says that he struggles to find the most suitable words and phrases for this novel and this perfectionism prevents him from progressing further.
At this point, an attentive reader has to ask oneself a question whether this behavior can ascribed only to perfectionism or to something else, for instance to the fear of a making a mistake, laziness, and reluctance to take risks.
He changes his lifestyle only when the epidemic of plague breaks out in the town. This calamity helps Joseph to rediscover the traits of which he was unaware before, namely, fortitude and resolution. He is seen by others as the “embodiment of quiet courage” that raises the spirit of other people (Camus, 100).
During the plague, he stops being a Sisyphus, engaged in senseless labor. He becomes a person who realizes that his life must not be spent in vain. At the very end, we learn that Joseph resumes the work on his novel, but we do not know for sure whether he has ever completed the first line. The author leaves it for the readers to decide whether Joseph Grand is a changed man, who can take initiative and responsibility for his actions, or he is the same Sisyphus, who is more content with the safety of daily routine.
It is quite difficult to determine how this novel would have looked like without him. Most likely, the plot of The Plague would have remained unchanged, yet the impression, produced by this literary work would have been different.
The thing is that Joseph Grand embodies the strengths and weaknesses of modern people, including their aspirations, fears, and prejudices. Again, this character proves an idea that people usually do not attempt to change for the better on their own accord, unless there is a powerful external stimulus. This is why the character of Joseph Grand is important to this novel.
Camus Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1955. Available at: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/hell/camus.html
Camus Albert. The Plague. BookEden, 1967.