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The Importance Of Personal Freedom And Free Will Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1709 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The plague in Oran can be seen as a force that has been continually limiting and removing the freedom of its inhabitants through its oppressive nature and the constant state of fear and danger that the citizens on Oran must live with on a daily basis. A stark contrast has been established between the heavily plague stricken town and the original dull and monotonous town characterized by its booming business industry, a contrast that has become more prominent as the plague progressed. Whereas in the beginning of the novel, the townspeople were mostly given complete freedom, except for government imposed regulations, and were left to themselves to take responsibility for their own actions and craft meaning through their freedom and actions in a world that is inherently cold and meaningless. However, as the plague worsened, these freedoms have been continually destroyed one by one, until the townspeople are left with little freedom to act in the face of a formless oppressive presence. One freedom that the townspeople are left with is the freedom to unite under the common yearning for human worth and the desire of a façade of peace. Otherwise, the townspeople’s actions have all but lost their meaning as their goal has become to congregate and search for ways to occupy their time.

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This is exemplified when Cottard, Tarrou, and many of the citizens in Oran attend the “Gluck’s Orpheus” (200) and the Municipal Opera house. There, the citizens believe that they maintain the freedom to find temporary relief from the plague and the monotonous deaths that follow in its wake. There seems to be a mindset among the people that to seek human warmth by gathering with others will help them overcome the exile and suffering that the plague has brought, and thus they become united by this. The townspeople thus try to exercise their free will and act as though the plague has not had an effect upon them as shown by “how careful they were, as they went to their places, to make an elegant entrance” (200). Each action appears to be a deliberate calculation meant to downplay the prominence and the omnipresence of the plague. To the townspeople, through their united mindset of fear and yearning for human warmth, “the regained the confidence denied them when they walked the dark streets of the town; evening dress was a sure charm against plague” (200). Yet, these people soon realize how little freedom they truly possess for even in their best efforts to demonstrate free will and craft a sense of belonging with fellow citizens, the plague follows them where ever they go, even entering the opera house in the form of an actor “[staggering] grotesquely to the footlights, his arms and legs splayed out under his antique robe, and [falling] down in the middle of the property sheepfold” (201) in an attempt to act out the effects of the plague. Although this action is harmless in the actor’s eyes, in serves to remind the townspeople that the plague has become their lives and try as they may, they do not possess the freedom to escape it. In fact, what the actor portrayed in his performance was “a dramatic picture of their life in those days” (201). When the townspeople attempt to exercise what freedom they believe that they still possess, they are inevitably confronted with the oppressive power of the plague and forced to realize that as convincing as their façade may seem, their lives have become devoid of the freedom that it one possessed, and thus “in the auditorium the toys of luxury, so futile now, forgotten fans and lace shawls derelict on the red plush seats” (201) were abandoned and forgotten as the citizens of Oran attempt to escape from the inescapable and must face the fact that their freedom to act and thus to give themselves meaning has been reduced to nothing more than superficial attempts made common by their unity through fear.

This can be further seen in the isolation camps of the time. The isolation camp that is described in the novel has “screened the unfortunates in the quarantine from the view of people on the road” (238) through the physical use of concrete walls so that “the inmates could hear all day, through they could not see” (238) the daily instances of life that occurred beyond the concrete walls. This establishes a similar contrast for the “inmates” represent those that have had their freedom to act forcibly stripped away by plague and by government regulations and the people on the other side represent the freedom they once had. Thus, the inmates are forced to constantly remember that they at one point possessed freedom, only to be confronted with the grim reality that they no longer do. This lack of freedom has not only limited the actions of the people, but it has deteriorated free will as well. This is illustrated by the change the people have gone through. “When they first came there was such a din you couldn’t hear yourself speak… But as the days went by they grew quieter and quieter” (240) and their “suffering from the complete break with all that life had meant had meant to [them]” (240) grew more and more profound. Thus, the importance of human freedom is emphasized because without it, the inherently meaningless nature of the world comes to characterize those who are oppressed as they no longer have any way to take action and accept responsibilities for those actions. Thus, a cycle is formed in which this complete oppression robs the people of their free will, further causing them to lose all interest in freedom and cease their struggles to regain freedom, leaving the oppressed with nothing more than “vacant [gazes]” (240) which renders them incapable of acting for themselves by forcing them to do “nothing” (239) all day.

The Absurd

According to absurdist theory, the human condition is split between man’s desire to find meaning or significance in this own life, and the meaningless and cold nature of society and the world around them. Thus, man is left with two options in the face of the absurd: to completely reject it, or to recognize and accept it. In The Plague, Father Paneloux voices a similar message in his second sermon after he is confronted and realized the absurd nature of life through the intense and apparently “needless pain” (223) that a child in had to undergo on his path to death, saying that “we must believe everything or deny everything” (224). In this case, to “deny everything” seems to be completely reject that the world in inherently absurd and meaningless. The only apparent way to reject absurdism in its entirety would be to either consent oneself to death or actively commit suicide. However, suicide is seem as an admittance that life is not worth living and that relief can only be found through death. Thus, Father Paneloux advocates the other path, a path filled with harder struggles and pits man against the very absurdity of nature itself by asking “who among you, I ask, would dare to deny everything” (224). At this point, denial of the absurd doesn’t seem to be an option anymore for the plague that was swept through the town is the epitome of absurdism. It forces people to consider “the nature of evil… among things evil he included human suffering” (223) as to them, the plague is nothing short of an evil force that makes no discrimination between “apparently needful pain, and apparently needless pain” (223) as shown by the distinction between “Don Juan [being cast] into hell, and a child’s death” (223). The citizens of Oran have been forced to live with this absurdity for months on end, and at this point, few to none people still maintain the ability to see the world through a completely rational lens and thus reject all tenants of absurdism.

Thus, the Father embraces absurdism by delivering the message that people are at a crossroads and must choose to either accept it or reject it for their no longer remains a middle ground of partial realization by urging people to “acquire and practice the greatest of all virtues: that of the All of Nothing” (225). Therefore, by denying that the citizens of Oran are able to reject absurdism in its entirety, Father Paneloux begins to describe what steps must be taken and what must be done before one can truly embrace the absurd and accept it into their lives in “the All”. The first step is of humiliation, “to which a person humiliated gave full assent” (225). Only through intense humiliation with consent, can a person bring him or herself face to face with all that is absurd in life. For Father Paneloux, this instance occurred when he witnesses the agonizing suffering and pain a child on the verge of death had to endure. It is only through such humiliation that reaches all the way “to the heart and to the mind” (225) that one can recognize absurdism to its fullest extent.

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Then, one must “yield himself wholly to the divine will, even though it passed his understand” (226). Or, in other words, fully accept the humiliation and firmly stand by the belief that through death meaning was established even if no meaning is apparent and all the suffering and pain that is witnessed seems useless, needless, and agonizingly humiliating to take part in. Simply put, “since it was God’s will, we, too, should will it” (225). For only by recognizing and embracing absurdism will one see that the world is without meaning and the quest to find meaning is absurd in and of itself, yet to continuing to embrace absurdism while continuing to search for meaning, one will be able to truly be free and generate one’s own meaning through one’s search for meaning in a meaningless world. Thus, in the face of all that is absurd, Father Paneloux calls out to all those that listen saying that “each one of us must be the one who stays” (227) on the path of absurdism instead of reject it, and find meaning.


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