JULY 30: CAMUS’ THE PLAGUE
1. Describe in detail the impact the plague crisis had on the general population of Oran. What regulations were
implemented? What impact did the crisis have on people?
- cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage of Oran's population
- thousands of rats, initially unnoticed by the populace, begin to die in the streets. A hysteria develops soon afterward,
causing the local newspapers to report the incident. Authorities responding to public pressure order the collection and
cremation of the rats, unaware that the collection itself was the catalyst for the spread of the bubonic plague.
- The town is sealed off. The town gates are shut, rail travel is prohibited, and all mail service is suspended. The use of
telephone lines is restricted only to "urgent" calls, leaving short telegrams as the only means of communicating with
friends or family outside the town. The separation affects daily activity and depresses the spirit of the townspeople, who
begin to feel isolated and introverted, and the plague begins to affect various characters.
2. When Rieux denied Rambert’s request for a certificate which would allow the latter to leave the city, Rambert
said bitterly: “No…you can’t understand. You’re using the language of reason, not of the heart; you live in a
world of…abstraction” (p.82). How do Rieux and Rambert differ in their perspectives on the plague? In your
answer interpret the distinction between “abstraction” and “happiness”, and why Rieux does not share
Rambert’s intense desire to escape from Oran. See also pages 157-159, 182-183, 199-200.
Raymond Rambert asks the town doctor, Bernard Rieux for a certificate stating that he is plague-free, in order that he
might leave the quarantined city of Oran and be reunited in Paris with his girlfriend. When his request is refused,
Rambert angrily accuses Rieux of being incapable of understanding his situation:
You're using the language of reason, not of the heart; you live in a world of abstractions.
After Rambert's departure, Rieux muses on his accusation:
Yes, the journalist was right in refusing to be balked of happiness. But was he right in reproaching him, Rieux, with
living in a world of abstractions? Could that term “abstraction” really apply to these days he spent in his hospital while
the plague was battening on the town ...? Yes, an element of abstraction, of a divorce from reality, entered into such
calamities. Still when abstraction sets to killing you, you've got to get busy with it. And so much Rieux knew: that this
wasn't the easiest course.
The answer to both of Rieux's reflexive questions is no. Rieux, in fact, isn't dealing with abstractions, or ideas at all
when he refuses Rambert's request—he is reacting rationally to unforeseen events that have befallen Oran. In addition to
working long clinical hours, diagnosing and treating contagious patients, he helps convince city health officials to
institute measures for inoculating the city's populace at the earliest possible time, in an effort to stem spreading of the
disease. Rieux does what he has to do in the face of calamity, out of a sense of responsibility to himself, as a citizen of
Oran and the community, as a doctor who has pledged to treat and heal the sick, even if his own well being is threatened
in turn. 3. Explain Paneloux’s perspective on the plague. See pages 89-95 and 214-223.
Father Paneloux is a priest in the story. During the beginning trials of the plague, he delivered a sermon to the people of
Oran, declaring that the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins.
4. Camus seems to suggest that Rieux, Tarrou and Grand respond to the crisis in the most exemplary way.
Explain the perspective these heroes (or, rather, non-heroes) had on the crisis. See pages 121-124, 133, 158.
No one takes a stand and resists death except Rieux and Tarrou.
Rieux and Tarrou do seem to show the same level of heroism. Both resist the plague, both are symbolically cleansed in
the river, and both record the events of Oran. BrÃ©e thinks that for Rieux "morality is first of all a question of curing
people (150)." Rieux fights the plague only because he sees it as his duty, and one has to wonder if he would have done
anything if he wasn't a doctor. He views the plague as "a never-ending defeat." Tarrou acts for a more noble purpose: to
gain sainthood. (Paneloux might also be considered a hero for this reason, but he doesn't fight the plague as Tarrou
does.) Tarrou sacrifices his life, and thus pays more for his heroism than Rieux. By the end of the book Rieux has been
reduced to methodically diagnosing patients, while Tarrou has died and supposedly attained sainthood. Tarrou
accomplishes his goal, but Rieux hasn't been able to cure everyone of the plague.
What is the plague which Tarrou is fighting? Some see it as a parable for the Occupation (Bloom 107), with Oran
being France, the men rebels, and the plague Nazism. If this is so, why does the plague carry off the Catholic priest and
M. Othon's son? Austin Fowler (Dep. of English, NY state university) says that the plague is death itself, common to all
men. Camus, then, is showing how different people react to death. Through Tarrou, Camus shows how to heroically deal
with death. Tarrou falls in with Deucalion and the worms in God's garden as an example of "the cataracts of heaven".
Since one of his goals was not to be a carrier of plague, the plague strikes him. Like most of the characters in this
chapter, he resists his fate even to his deathbed. Camus shows us that the constant act of resisting, the unwillingness to
accept death, makes us saints. Paneloux, for all his religious beliefs, chooses not to fight the plague and misses out on
sainthood. Rieux resists not because he hates death but because he's a doctor. He becomes almost indifferent to suffering
in his narration and actions, so the plague doesn't "punish" him.
Camus has obviously set Tarrou up to be a hero in the plague. He's the only hero because nobody except Rieux
comes close to fighting the plague, and Rieux only acts to fulfill his obligation as a doctor. He's a saint because he resists
death and fate and thus attains sainthood. He's a hero because he provides a correct model on how to deal with death.
For fighting the plague, he gets symbolically crushed. Without Tarrou, "The Plague" wouldn't have the hero common to
almost all literature. 5. What is Cottard’s perspective on, and reaction to, the plague? Why does Tarrou describe him as the plague’s
“accomplice”? See pages 184-189, 290-295.
Cottard is totally pumped about the plague when he bumps into Dr. Rieux on the street. Could things get any better?
Surely not! It’s like a black-market shady smuggler’s dream come true.
Cottard overhears Rambert discussing his "I wish I could get out of Oran already" plight with Rieux.
He approaches the journalist the next day and offers to help, mostly so he can have yet another "friend" willing to testify
in his favor.
Cottard meets with Tarrou and Rieux and is none-too-happy to hear of a man’s recovery from the plague.
When Tarrou suggests that he help fight the pestilence, he responds that that simply isn’t his job. Besides, he says, the
plague has been treating him well – why would he want to fight it?
When Tarrou suggests that Cottard could be arrested for his actions, he flips out. Publicly. This guy does not have a
check for his emotional volatility.
Cottard reveals that he did something illegal years ago. He won’t say what, but he does explain that it wasn’t murder.
This supposedly explains his paranoia – he’s afraid of getting caught.
Cottard can’t help Rambert after his first escape attempt fails, since he doesn’t know where Gonzales lives.
The next morning, Cottard goes with Rieux to find Garcia again.
Tarrou develops an intense interest in Cottard. He (Cottard that