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No character in The Plague has a stronger and more explicit relationship to truth than Tarrou. He distrusts the consoling quality of lies. Even when he faces the possibility to be infected with plague and is thus confronted with his own DEATH, he repeatedly insists that Rieux tells him the truth about his condition. (cf. 284, 287)1 But this is the only occasion when Tarrou is in need of learning the truth. He says about himself that he has “little left to learn.” (129) When asked whether he really thinks he knows everything about life, he answers in the affirmative. (cf. 130)

Tarrou’s relationship to truth is essentially a Freudian one. Taking a stance very close to that of Freud’s Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, he lives life in acceptance of the true yet unappealing nature of man. Freud argues that we are, by nature, murderously inclined toward others, and that civilization can suppress this primitive instinct but can never root it out completely.2 This is what Tarrou means when he says: “We can’t stir a finger in this world without the risk of bringing death to somebody.” (252) The instinct to kill may break through in all our actions, even in those that seem insignificant to us.

The condemnation of man to his own nature is total; there are no exceptions. Tarrou declares that he himself is like everybody else in not being able to escape from human nature, “each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it.” (253) While Freud chooses to face this truth in order to gain solace from the fact that the war has not made man worse but has only shown his true nature and that a restoration of civilization – this endangered and fragile construction vital for a liveable LIFE – will end the terrible events of war,3 Tarrou takes a very similar stance, stressing the active part of man. He faces truth in order to enter a struggle that can never be ultimately won: “What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter.” (253) Civilization, as Freud points out, is precisely what requires vigilance and renunciation from each individual in order to live.4 What Freud formulates as a mandatory rule of cultured society, Tarrou voices as an appeal to the individual. Their aim, however, is the same.

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