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The Plague

Albert Camus

Part III: Chapter 18

Part II: Chapters 15-17

Part IV: Chapters 19-25

Summary

By mid-August, the public begins to view the plague as a collective disaster. The plague delivers "impartial justice" because its victims occupy all levels of the social hierarchy. Owing to the high number of deaths, funerals are stripped of their ceremony to ensure speedy interment. Eventually, it becomes necessary to bury the victims in mass graves. When there is no longer space in the cemetery, the authorities begin cremating the bodies. Fortunately, the plague does not get worse after the capacity of the crematorium is reached. The memories of absent loved ones fade as the public sinks into despondency. The residents of Oran begin to speak of their pain to others.

Commentary

When their imagination ceases to provide the means to fill their idle time, Oran's citizens finally acknowledge their collective plight. Everyone is equally condemned because the plague snatches its victims from all walks of life. In revealing the absurdity of hierarchies by refusing to obey them, the plague illuminates the universal absurdity of hierarchies: all people, rich and poor, young and old, live under a death sentence every day of their lives. Death is always a collective catastrophe because it is humankind's collective fate.

The distinctions of burial fall away under the flood of corpses: the plague victims are disposed of in the same manner as the rats had been a few months earlier. Any attempts on the part of the living to impose a posthumous hierarchy on the victims are exposed as utterly absurd. Similarly, many people realize that there is no rational or moral hierarchy in the suffering caused by the plague. The community begins to see itself as a true community, united in a profound experience—made perhaps more profound and leveling for the very reason that it is absurd.

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