The Plague and Temporal Perspective
Towards the beginning of the novel, when the plague first becomes prevalent in affecting the people, I noticed a relationship to what I had been learning in my psychology of time class. In this psych class we learned about temporal perspective, and how there are five different time directions: past negative, past positive, present hedonistic, present fatalistic, and future. Those people with a present hedonistic orientation tend to view life as living in the here and now and fail to think about the future, while present fatalistic people have a helpless and hopeless attitude toward life and the future. I found that when the people initially began dealing with the plague, temporal perspective played an important role. Their feelings on temporal direction were described when Camus stated the people were, “hostile to the past, impatient to the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars” (73). This quote helps to illustrate how the people were angry about their recent past because they failed to take action to eradicate the rats. Their present has been altered because they are at a standstill until the plague has been eliminated. Finally, they have no future because they had nothing to look forward to because they good see no end in sight. It seemed that, much like prisoners behind bars, the only thing the people could do was sit and wait for the sentence of the plague to be over.
When the plague first became present among the people, the citizens tended toward a present hedonistic orientation, as shown by the “much heavy drinking” (80) and other similar actions. These individuals were not thinking about the negative consequences of their actions because they failed to consider the future. Therefore, they showed more risky behavior and doing what is pleasing. As the plague continued to ravage the city, however, many of the citizens shifted to a present fatalistic temporal direction. As the deaths increased exponentially, it seemed as though their feelings of control declined and they seemed to adopt an external locus of control, simply going through the motions of life without really living. Further support for the idea of a present orientation in the town is presented when Camus states, “thus each of us had to be content to live only for the day” (75) because they had to “cease looking to the future” (72). These quotations help to reiterate the point that the plague not only had an impact on the people’s health, but also on their mental state. However it is interesting to note that not all the characters showed this time of time orientation. It seemed as though Rambert and Rieux had a future orientation. They both had long-term goals, seeing his wife and helping to cure the plague, which kept them focused on the optimism of the future.