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The Plague

Albert Camus

Part V

Part IV: Chapters 19-25

Analysis

Summary

The population hesitates to show any hope in response to the declining death rate because they have become cautious during their long confinement. Castel's serum proves effective in a number of cases, and all signs point to a waning of the epidemic. However, Othon succumbs to the plague just as hope is strongest. The Prefect issues an announcement that the gates will be opened in two weeks, but the sanitation measures will remain in effect for another month. Cottard becomes distressed at signs of the end of the plague. When Tarrou walks him home, two men who look like government employees approach Cottard. Cottard flees, while they follow him unhurriedly.

When Tarrou falls ill with the plague, Rieux and his mother care for him. Tarrou vows to fight for his life, but he asks that Rieux be entirely truthful with him about his condition. Despite a hard struggle against the plague, Tarrou dies after several days. Rieux receives a telegram reporting his wife's death.

When the gates open in February, the incoming trains are packed. Rambert's wife comes from Paris to meet him in Oran. Rambert finds himself greatly changed by the plague. He regards their impending reunion with anticipation, but not with the burning passion of before.

Dr. Rieux reveals that he is the narrator of the chronicle. He wanted to do his best to present an objective narrative. As a doctor, he had a great deal of contact with all levels of Oran society during the plague. He feels that there are only a few things that the townspeople have in common--love, exile, and suffering. He limited himself to reporting only what people did and said, rather than speculating as to what they thought or felt. Of Cottard, Tarrou said that only his real crime was approving of something that killed people. Rieux adds that Cottard had an ignorant, lonely heart. Unable to cope with the end of the plague, Cottard shuts himself in his apartment and begins firing a gun into the street. The police eventually take him into custody. Afterwards, Grand informs Rieux that he wrote Jeanne a letter and has been feeling much better. He has also resolved to continue working on his book.

Rieux's asthma patient, remarking about Tarrou's death, notes that it seems the best always die. The patient notes the odd pride that some of the town residents take in having survived the plague. They will honor the dead with a memorial before returning to their old lives and activities as if nothing happened. When Rieux watches the public rejoice at the end of their exile, he is forced to agree with him. For that reason, he decided to bear witness to the plague victims. The plague has drawn him to the conclusion that there is more to praise than despise in humans. He acknowledges that the bacillus microbe can lie dormant for years, and he notes that for that reason the chronicle does not record a final victory by any means.

Commentary

After fighting for the lives of others, Tarrou fights for his own life when he contracts the plague. Unlike Paneloux, he does not passively consent to the death sentence of the plague. He struggles with all his strength. His symptoms are a magnification of the normal symptoms-they conform to both the pneumonic and the bubonic forms of the plague. Therefore, he is clearly not a "doubtful case." The difference in his death and Paneloux's death indicates that Tarrou reached understanding of the human condition whereas Paneloux did not.

Neither Rieux nor Tarrou condemn Cottard for his indifference because they understand that it springs from his ignorance and alienation. It is interesting that they do not mention the unnamed crime he committed in the past when discussing his guilt. Rather, they sympathize with his constant fear of arrest. Perhaps this is because they do not understand human relations in terms of "guilt" at all. Rieux himself states that the only things that Oran's people share for certain are love, exile, and suffering.

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