Essay on Disease as a Reflection of Social Philosophy

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The changing use of metaphors charts the evolution of social order. The depictions of illness in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Tristan and Albert Camus’ The Plague reveal Western culture’s evolving values. By examining their portrayals of disease through a phenomenological analysis, one sees a reflection of the philosophies of the early twentieth century. Written in 1902, Tristan illustrates the decline of the European aristocracy and the rise of new world powers. In Death in Venice, cholera represents the changing social structures by emphasizing the relationship between beauty and death. In Camus’ The Plague, the stifling effects of the plague mirror the unsettling philosophical questions inspired by the rise of totalitarianism throughout Europe and the lack of resistance to the Nazi occupation of France. By examining Thomas Mann and Albert Camus’ interpretations of disease on the individual and government, one can observe the influence of historical phenomena on Western philosophy.
As an early twentieth century work, Mann’s Tristan reflects the major political and economic changes which reshaped Europe in the pre-World War I era. As industrialism swept Europe, Europeans were forced to abandon age-old notions of aristocracy in favor of nationalist ideals and philosophies of government. The mortally afflicted Gabrielle Klöterjahn serves as the most prominent representation of the traditional elite. Delicate and feeble, Gabrielle conforms to conventional gender roles by obeying her husband’s every order. To establish Gabrielle’s role as a symbol of the failing European order, Mann juxtaposes her ailing countenance with opulent imagery. References to Gabrielle’s “pale blue and sickly” veins evoke images of the old...

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...italism and industry. Camus’ The Plague demonstrates the changes in political philosophy caused by the effects of World War II and reflects Camus’ absurdist views. Through images of oppression and futility, Camus examines the role of morality and the individual in an absurdist world with little hope for true understanding. The transition from Tristan and Death in Venice’s concern for the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of capitalism to The Plague’s interest in the nature of morality in a totalitarian society reflects the effects of political events. Through a phenomenological examination of disease in Mann’s Tristan and Death in Venice and Camus’ The Plague, one can observe the shifts in political philosophy due to major historical changes caused by the decline of the old-world monarchies and the totalitarian occupations of much of Europe by the Nazis.

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