Night," by Elie Wiesel, "The Plague," by Albert Camus, and the "I Have a Dream" speech, by Martin Luther King, Jr. Specifically, it will discuss the views of human nature held by Wiesel, Camus, and King. Are people basically good or bad? Who is more optimistic or pessimistic? Who is right? Martin Luther King, Jr. is the optimist of these three writers, but each author makes the reader think, and that is the ultimate goal of any journalist.
At first glance, these three pieces seem quite diverse in their stories, but in reality, they each tell a compelling tale of humankind at its best, and at its worst. Each author has a different view, each piece tells a different story, and yet, they all force the reader to question how they view humankind, and what they believe. In "The Plague," the character Tarrou is a man who has "lost his peace." Throughout the book, he displays a dim view of humankind, and yet attempts to rescue people from the dreadful plague. Camus notes this is not unusual, "And that, too, is natural enough. In fact, it comes to this: nobody is capable of really thinking about anyone, even in the worst calamity" (Camus 241). He shows his own dim view of humankind, and allows that view to color his characters. Camus makes Tarrou seem good on the outside, but in reality, comprehends more than he lets anyone see about the ignobleness of man, and the inhumanity of humans. In some outlandish way, he dreams of becoming some kind of saint, even as he swears there is no God he believes in. For that reason, the man who the author paints as so good and decent on the outside is a tormented soul inside. He has selfish and self-serving intentions at the very foundation of his goodness. The author is attempting to show quite graphically there is deadly disease inside us all, and we can never be free of this poisonous disease, as he shows here: "They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences" (Camus 37).
Camus is certainly not optimistic in his views, and neither is author Elie Wiesel in his book, "Night." In "Night," the main character is the author himself, who lived through the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp as a young boy. If anything would alter your views on humanity, that experience would, and it certainly alters Wiesel, which he often acknowledges in the story when he discusses how it affected his religious beliefs. When the story opens, Wiesel is 12, and he strongly believes in his Jewish religion. "I was twelve. I believed profoundly" (Wiesel 12). However, as he looks back, he realizes he was too young to understand why he believed. He lived a good life until the Nazis came and displaced them. First, the Nazis forced Wiesel's family to leave their home and move to a Jewish ghetto. Then, they deported the entire ghetto to one of the most dreaded camps in the system, Auschwitz. "The wheels began to grind. We were on our way" (Wiesel 32).
As his comfortable world begins unravel around him, he questions the meaning of life, and the meaning of his faith. As soon as his first night in the camp, he smells the distinct odor of burning flesh, and begins to notice that people vanish, never to return. As soon as his first night, he begins to question his God and his faith. "Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust" (Wiesel 44). He suffers many more horrors during his time in various camps, and they all add to his distrust of humankind and his God. A cruel Nazi whips him for stumbling on a camp leader embracing a Polish girl, the barracks are bombed, and someone rips out his gold crown with nothing more than a rusty spoon. It is a miracle that he even survived. When he views the hangings of other prisoners, his cynicism is complete. He cries out, "Where is God now?' And I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He? Here He is - He is hanging here on this gallows...'" (Wiesel 76).
Martin Luther King, Jr., on the other hand, is at his core an optimist, but his core has undergone many difficulties, and so, he becomes somewhat of a pessimist when he views the "strides" made by blacks up to the 1960s, and how much they still must accomplish. In his "I Have a Dream," speech, which was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in August of 1963, he opens his speech on a note of hope, remembering the Emancipation Proclamation, and closes it equally hopefully. However, it is in the core of the speech that King, Jr. allows his disillusionment to shine through. He says, "It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'" (King, Jr.). However, unlike the other two characters, he cannot stop his optimism from shining through when he notes, "But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation" (King, Jr.). Of the three pieces, the "I Have a Dream" speech is full of hope and optimism, while the other two are dark and despairing. King, although his people faced great odds, clearly believed in the ultimate goodness of humanity, while Camus and Wiesel certainly did not. They were both more pessimistic and negative in how they viewed people, life, and the motives of people surrounding their characters. It is easy to see why Wiesel was so disillusioned and negative, he lived through Hell, but it is difficult to discern just what caused Camus to become so negative. King holds up his hope like a shining light and instilled that hope, that feeling of wonderment and the ability to create anything, in his listeners. On the other hand, Camus and Wiesel both instill a feeling of despair and hopelessness, and so, their works are more difficult to read, but in the end, they inspire more thought and insight in the reader.
While Tarrou in "The Plague" represents goodness, paradoxically, he also believes goodness is simply a matter of choice. The character Rambert confirms these beliefs when he finally chooses goodness over selfishness in the end. Tarrou states, "What's natural is the microbe. All the rest -- heath, integrity, purity (if you like) -- is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention" (Camus 253). What Camus is saying is that humankind is not intrinsically good, it is a choice some people make, and others do not. Alternately, Wiesel's experience is more personal, but his reaction is not much different from Camus. Eventually, Wiesel's family all dies, and he is left alone in the world. This is his lowest point, and the point where he even gives up his own will to live. "From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me" (Wiesel 127). After his father died, Wiesel gave up the will to live. If Americans had not liberated the camp shortly after that, he too might have perished. His life was forever altered because of what he had seen and the terrible things he had to live through.
Camus relates his own feelings and beliefs through his characters, and most of those feelings come out as gloomy and disconsolate, with a dark view of humankind and their general humanness. Yet at the end, he seems to have a change of heart, and hopes for a better day for mankind, when he notes,.".. what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise" (Camus 308). Nevertheless, despite the seeming change of heart at the end of the novel, Camus vividly shows goodness is no source of deliverance or optimism, for Tarrou is good, and dies at the end, and the compassionate Dr. Rieux loses his wife, too. In his final blow at mankind, Camus seems to be saying that it does not matter how a person lives their life, the good suffer just as much as the evil, sometimes even more so. Tarrou's character embodies this view. Tarrou on the outside anyway, is a good man who others would emulate, but in the end, he is just as dead as the evil Father Paneloux, and the treacherous Cottard.