The structure of the modern plague novel, all the way to Stephen King’s “The Stand” and beyond, is a series of variations on “A Journal of the Plague Year” (a story set within the walls of a quarantine) and “The Last Man” (a story set among a ragged band of survivors). Within those two structures, though, the scope for storytelling is vast, and so is the scope for moralism, historical argument, and philosophical reflection. Every plague novel is a parable.
Albert Camus once defined the novel as the place where the human being is abandoned to other human beings. The plague novel is the place where all human beings abandon all other human beings. Unlike other species of apocalyptic fiction, where the enemy can be chemicals or volcanoes or earthquakes or alien invaders, the enemy here is other humans: the touch of other humans, the breath of other humans, and, very often—in the competition for diminishing resources—the mere existence of other humans.
Jill Lepore, “Don’t Come Any Closer”, The New Yorker (30 March 2020), 24-25.