The Plague

by: Albert Camus

Part IV: Chapters 19-25

Summary Part IV: Chapters 19-25

The actor playing the role of Orpheus forces his audience to recognize the real dangers facing them. Escaping to a performance of Orpheus is merely surrender to and denial of these dangers. The play is also about lovers separated by death. It entertains the fantasy that a loved one can be reclaimed from the jaws of death. The actor's collapse forces the audience to confront the false illusion this play creates. They have denied the possibility of their own deaths by indulging in fantasies about absent loved ones. The actor's breach of the accepted routine forces them to confront the plague as a real danger to each and every one of them. When reality creeps into the fabric of the public's fantasy world, they react with disorganized terror. The point made by this scene is that everyone is just as isolated while indulging in escapist rituals of entertainment as they are in their collective terror of death.

Camus does not fully answer the problem of human isolation. Fear and denial are both responsible for the isolation that Oran's people suffer during the epidemic. They respond to this isolation in differing ways. Camus implies that the people of Oran can break the alienation and isolation produced by their fear of the plague by putting up a collective resistance against it. Fighting the plague is an affirmation of the human will to survive while the paralysis of fear and escapism are acts of surrender.

Paneloux cannot produce a moral or rational explanation for an innocent child's horrible death. His second sermon is an interesting variation on Rieux's "all or nothing" response to the plague. Paneloux believes that the suffering of innocents is not explicable in terms that human beings can understand. Therefore, it is a test of Christian faith in the utmost sense: the Christian is faced with the choice between believing everything and denying everything about God. In a sense, Paneloux asks his congregation to accept a condition of ignorance. He chooses not to consult a doctor when he becomes ill because he wants to put all of his faith in divine Providence. However, the symptoms of his illness do not match those of the plague. Therefore, Rieux marks him as a "doubtful case" after his death. This represents the doubtful nature of Paneloux's understanding of human existence. He chose to passively accept death, something that the novel argues against. He denied the basic drive of the human will to survive.