NOTES ON READING THE PLAGUE
By: Bob Corbett
WHAT IS THE PLAGUE?
- Simply that, a plague. On this view this is not an allegory, but a
straight forward tale.
- World War II.
- Inauthenticity. (If so, then the plague of Oran [even read it as WWII] is
an historic moment of such intensification that the plague becomes more visible than at other historical moments. Thus the novel calls attention to such a moment in history.)
One this view it is important to note page 250.What happens after the plague, after the extraordinary historical moment? Cottard talks with Tarrou: "Was it supposed, he asked, that the plague wouldn't have changed anything and the life of the town would go on as before, exactly as if nothing had happened? Tarrou thought that the plague would have changed things and not changed them; naturally our fellow citizens' strongest desire was, and would be, to behave as if nothing had changed and for that reason nothing would be changed, in a sense. But -- to look at it from another angle -- one can't forget everything, however great one's wish to do so; the plague was bound to leave traces, anyhow, in people's hearts."
- A compression of human existence with an emphasis on the role of
death in life.
- The plague may be different things for different people.
THE MAJOR CHARACTERS to make sense of
- Dr. Rieux
- Raymond Rambert
- The old asthma patient
- M. Othon
- Father Paneloux
- Dr. Castel
NOTES ON THE TEXT ITSELF:
- p. 4. Most of this page to bottom Camus sets up the situation against which the plague will war. It's what he calls a "completely modern" city.
- How to leave the town is central. top of p. 5 says: "...for lack of time and thinking, people have to love one another without knowing much about it."
- p. 6. who is the narrator? His identity will be made known later. p. 271. Rieux is the narrator.
- Note on p. 54 and 51. There are references to Cottard's interest in The Stranger and The Trial. How does this fit with Cottard's character?
- p. 64. Intensified meaning of loved ones. People didn't take others for granted.
- p. 77-78. hints that Raymond Rambert is narrator.
- p. 79. Rambert says he doesn't belong. He doesn't have the plague. Rieux agrees, most people don't, but this absurdity's their reality.
- p. 116. Why does Rieux, an atheist, fight against the plague? He fights against creation as he found it -- to relived unnecessary suffering.
- p. 118 (116-118 crucial discussion of Tarrou and Rieux)
Suffering taught Rieux about the needs to struggle.
- p. 120. Tarrou's teacher -- comprehension of sanitary squads' motivation -- unthinkable not to do it.
- p. 126. Important quote about happiness and heroism and Grand.
- p. 127. Outside world: "Oran we're with you." "But not, the doctor told himself, to love or to die together -- 'and that's the only way, they're too remote.'"
- p. 134. "It's not the law that counts, it's the sentence." (The magistrate, M. Othon)
- p. 144. First case of recovery. Tarrou says impossible. Rieux replies: "True enough, as a general rule," Rieux replied, "But if you refuse to be beaten, you have some pleasant surprises."
- p. 196. "No, Father, I've a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture."
- p. 205. Paneloux's second sermon accepts -- even welcomes - what comes, but continues working to alleviate suffering. Be the one monk who stayed, alive.
- p. 227. Tarrou. "For the plague-stricken their peace of mind is more important than a human being." This suggests the plague is inauthenticity.
- Witnessing an execution in Hungary makes Tarrou know that he has had the plague, but didn't know it.
- p. 227-228: Powerful arguments against the death penalty.
- p. 228. The meaning of existence for Tarrou:
"I only know that one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and that's the only way in which we can hope for some peace or, failing that, a decent death. This, and only this, can bring relief to men and, if not save them, at least do them the least harm possible and even, sometimes, a little good."
- p.229. The plague is natural. What is human is resistance.
"...I can say I know the world inside out, as you may see -- that each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody's face and fasten the infection on him. What's natural is the microbe. All the rest -- health, integrity, purity (if you like) -- is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses. Yes, Rieux, it's a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it's still more wearying to refuse to be it. That's why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death."
- p. 230-231: Tarrou maintains that what it's all about is trying to be a saint. That is, avoid spreading and living the plague in a plague infested world. Rieux [a rather genuine saint] says, no, the joy is to be a person, a genuine human. Tarrou replies: "Yes, we're both after the same thing, but I'm less ambitious." This is a curious line. I take it to mean that the search for full authenticity, sainthood without God, is less difficult that the mixed area of being a human, accepting one's inauthenticity, one's typical “das Man” status, yet striving to resist, that is seek some authenticity, at the same time. This seems to be Rieux's strategy, though he seems to get much closer to Tarrou's concept of sainthood than anyone else in the novel.
- p. 247-248 Tarrou and Rieux discuss whether or not Cottard was a saint.
- p. 277. Prophet: (asthma patient) "But what does that mean 'plague'? Just life, no more than that."
- Note about the old asthma patient. He is a prophet, he foresees the future. Put together his case.
- Note about last page. This is a strong case that it's about, at least in part, WWII. p. 278. "None the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers."