A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
The narrator: Presents himself at the outset of the book as witness to the events and privy to documents, but does not identify himself with any character until the ending of the novel.
Dr. Bernard Rieux: Tarrou describes him as about thirty-five-years-old, of moderate height, dark-skinned, with close-cropped black hair. It is Rieux who treats the first victim of plague and who first uses the word plague to describe the disease. He urges the authorities to take action to stop the spread of the epidemic. However, at first, along with everyone else, the danger the town faces seems unreal to him. He feels uneasy but does not realize the gravity of the situation. Within a short while, he grasps what is at stake and warns the authorities that unless steps are taken immediately, the epidemic could kill off half the town's population of two hundred thousand within a couple of months.
Jean Tarrou: Jean Tarrou arrived in Oran some weeks before the plague broke out, for unknown reasons. He is not there on business, since he appears to have private means. Tarrou is a good-natured man who smiles a lot. Before the plague came, he liked to associate with the Spanish dancers and musicians in the city. He also keeps a diary, full of his observations of life in Oran.
Joseph Grand: Joseph Grand is a fifty-year-old clerk for the city government. He is tall and thin and always wears clothes a size too large for him. Poorly paid, he lives an austere life, but he is capable of deep affection. In his spare time, Grand polishes up his Latin, and he is also writing a book, but he is such a perfectionist that he continually rewrites the first sentence and can get no further. One of his problems in life is that he can rarely find the correct words to express what he means.
Cottard: Cottard lives in the same building as Grand. He does not appear to have a job, although he describes himself as "a traveling salesman in wines and spirits." Cottard is an eccentric figure, silent and secretive, who tries to hang himself in his room. Afterwards, he does not want to be interviewed by the police, since he has committed a crime in the past and fears arrest.
Raymond Rambert: Raymond Rambert is a journalist who is visiting Oran to research a story on living conditions in the Arab quarter of the town.
Father Paneloux: Father Paneloux is a learned, well-respected Jesuit priest. He is well known for having given a series of lectures in which he championed a pure form of Christian doctrine and chastised his audience about their laxity.
Asthma Patient: The patient of Dr. Rieux, seventy-five-year-old Spaniard, who usually comments the Oranian events quite ironically.
Dr. Castel: One of Rieux's older colleagues. He is the one responsible for creating an anti-plague serum.
Garcia: The man who has contacts with the group of smugglers in Oran. He introduces Rambert to Raoul in his attempt to help him leave the town.
Gonzales: The smuggler who is responsible for the main arrangements for Rambert's leaving Oran.
Louis and Marcel: They are brothers and the sentries who are involved in Rambert's escape.
Michel: The consierge of the building where Rieux lives. He is the first victim of the plague.
Othon: He is a magistrate in Oran but his family relationships are more important. He has a wife and two children whom he treats unkindly, without affection. He softens a bit after his son dies of the plague.
The Prefect: His first reaction to the talk of plague is claiming that this is a false alarm. For a long time his main concern is how to avoid taking too much responsibility for the necessary decision making.
Raoul: He agrees to arrange Rambert's escape from Oran. He introduces Rambert to Gonzales.
Dr. Richard: The chairman of the Oran Medical Association. He tries to delay any public action to combat the plague, because he does not want to cause the alarm and panic. He has even some trouble with using the name - plague, he prefers to call it - a special type of fever.
Mme. Rieux: Dr. Rieux's mother who comes to stay with him when his wife goes to the sanatorium.
“Moreover, in this extremity of solitude none could count on any help from his neighbour; each had to bear the load of his trouble alone. If, by some chance, one of us tried to unburden himself or to say something about his feelings, the reply he got, whatever it might be, usually wounded him. And then it dawned on him that he and the man with him weren't talking about the same thing. For a while he himself spoke from the depth of long days of brooding upon his personal distress, and the image he had tried to impart had been slowly shaped and proved in the fires of passion and regret, this meant nothing to the man to whom he was speaking, and who pictured a conventional emotion, a grief that is traded on the market-place, mass-produced. Whether friendly or hostile, the reply always missed fire, and the attempt to communicate had to be given up.”
“He then learnt that the contingency was the possibility of his falling ill and dying of plague; the data supplied would enable the authorities to notify his family and also to decide if the hospital expenses should be borne by the Municipality or if, in due course, they could be recovered from his relatives.”
“His face still in shadow, Rieux said that he'd already answered: that if he believed in an all-powerful God he would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort; no, not even Paneloux, who believed that he believed in such a God. And this was proven by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely. Anyhow, in this respect Rieux believed himself to be on the right road - in fighting against creation as he found it.”
“Man is an idea, and a precious small idea, once he turns his back on love. And that's my point; we - mankind - have lost the capacity for love. We must face that fact, doctor. Let's wait to acquire that capacity or, if really it's beyond us, wait for the deliverance that will come to each of us anyway, without his playing the hero. Personally, I look no farther.”
“Everyone was modest. For the first time exiles from those they loved had no reluctance to talking freely about them, using the same words as everybody else, and regarding their deprivation from the same angle as that from which they viewed the latest statistics of the epidemic. This change was striking since, until now, they had jealously withheld their personal grief from the common stock of suffering; now they accepted its inclusion. Without memories, without hope, they lived for the moment only. Indeed the Here and Now had come to mean everything to them. For there is no denying that the plague had gradually killed off in all of us the faculty not of love only but even of friendship. Naturally enough, since love asks something of the future, and nothing was left us but a series of present moments.”
“In fact, it comes to this: nobody is capable of really thinking about anyone, even in the worst calamity. For really to think about someone means thinking about that person every minute of the day, without letting one's thoughts be diverted by anything; by meals, by a fly that settles on one's cheek, by household duties, or by a sudder itch somewhere. But there are always flies and itches. That's why life is difficult to live.”
“At that moment he knew what his mother was thinking, and that she loved him. but he knew, too, that to love someone means relatively little; or, rather, that love is never strong enough to find the words befitting it. Thus he and his mother would always love each other silently.”
“A primera vista Oran es, en efecto, una ciudad como cualquier otra, una prefectura francesa en la costa argelina y nada más. // La ciudad, en sí misma, hay que confesarlo, es fea. Su aspecto es tranquilo y se necesita cierto tiempo para percibir lo que la hace diferente de las otras ciudades comerciales de cualquier latitud. ¿Cómo sugerir, por ejemplo, una ciudad sin palomas, sin árboles y sin jardines, donde no puede haber aleteos ni susurros de hojas, un lugar neutro, en una palabra? El cambio de las estaciones sólo se puede notar en el cielo. La primavera se anuncia únicamente por la calidad del aire o por los cestos de flores que traen a vender los muchachos de los alrededores; una primavera que venden en los mercados. Durante el verano el sol abrasa las casas resecas y cubre los muros con una ceniza gris; se llega a no poder vivir más que a la sombra de las persianas cerradas. En otoño, en cambio, un diluvio de barro. Los días buenos sólo llegan en el invierno.”
Book Review: Albert Camus was something that is almost unheard of. He was a philosopher who managed to synthesize his philosophy into coherent, even brilliant, literary works. In The Plague and The Stranger he managed to impart that philosophy on the world without interfering with the literary aspects. He is what Ayn Rand wishes she could have been. In The Plague, he manages to impart a look at the human condition and the distance with which we view tragedy in the story of how a plague sweeps through the town of Oran in Algeria. It begins with the rats. It begins so quietly was just a dead rat on the doorstep of the doctor, but soon is so much more than that. Within 20 pages we have progressed to this point: “He was dragging himself along, his head bent, his arms and legs curiously splayed out, with the jerky movements of a clockwork doll.” But this is no longer a rat; rather this is the concierge of the doctor’s building. Soon, even the though the town resists the idea at first, it becomes obvious that there is an outbreak of the plague and the telegram comes in: “Proclaim a state of plague stop close the town.“ The isolation begins – the emptiness from outside.
Wikipedia Article: The Plague is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947, that tells the story of medical workers finding solidarity in their labour as the Algerian city of Oran is swept by a plague. It asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace.
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