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The White Disease: Wikis


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The White Disease (Bílá nemoc in the original Czech) is a play written by Czech novelist Karel Čapek in 1937.[1] Written at a time of increasing threat from Nazi Germany to Czechoslovakia, it portrays a human response to a tense, prewar situation in an unnamed country that greatly resembles Germany with one extra, somewhat absurd addition: an uncurable white disease, a mysterious form of leprosy, is selectively killing off people older than 30.

White disease is spreading in the country and elsewhere in Europe. It kills its victims usually within a span of a year. People all over the place are totally terrified. However, the government, led by a dictator Marshal, is busy preparing for a war of conquest and does not really care. They figure that the youth are not susceptible, and the youth are the traditional mainstay of the regime in any event. If the adults are going to die, too bad for them.

Doctor Galén (a reference to famous Roman doctor Galen) has discovered a cure for the disease. However, being politically minded and apparently quite disdainful of the Hippocratic Oath, he requires his prospective patients to bring income statements, and only cures the poor. He promises to cure everybody else as soon as the government stops preparations for war and explains that, by withholding the cure from the rich, he wants to force them to get the government to change its mind. The government, meanwhile, eager to maintain public order and tranquility, is sponsoring a ruse, allegedly a former student of Galén, who sells fake cures to the rich. These consist largely of removing cosmetic symptoms.

The war begins with the army invading a neighboring small nation, a thinly veiled reference to Czechoslovakia. Other European nations, including England, declare war in response to aggression. Suddenly, the Marshal falls ill himself and will soon die. He realizes that without his personal military genius the country will inevitably lose the war because he was always reticent about promoting capable commanders. He summons Galén and demands that he cure him. Galén replies that: "Of course, just stop the war first." The Marshal tries to convince him, then promises to reconsider it. Galén leaves the audience and is killed at a pro-war youth rally because he says that he will not shout in support of war. In the end Europe is plagued by both the war and the disease.


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