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The Plague

The Plague Summary


Here you will find a The Plague summary (Albert Camus's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Plague Summary Overview

In a large city situated in Algeria, a sudden rat infestation causes alarm amongst the residents. This seemingly minor nuisance soon turns deadly when individuals begin falling ill with an unfamiliar fever. M. Michel, a building concierge working alongside Dr. Rieux, becomes one of the first victims. When multiple similar cases surface, Dr. Rieux's colleague, Castel, deduces that they are dealing with the bubonic plague. Despite their insistence, the authorities remain indifferent until the situation becomes undeniably critical. Only then do they implement stringent sanitation procedures and quarantine the city. The enforced confinement evokes a profound sense of longing in the citizens, leading them to dwell on personal grievances. Father Paneloux, a religious figure, proclaims the situation a divine punishment for the city's sins. Raymond Rambert, desperate to reunite with his wife in Paris, plans an illegal escape with the assistance of Cottard's criminal network. However, he chooses to stay and contribute to the fight against the plague after learning of Dr. Rieux's similar circumstances. Cottard, a criminal himself, exploits the situation, accumulating wealth through smuggling. As the quarantine extends over several months, citizens gradually shift their focus from personal suffering to collective responsibility. They join the fight against the plague, recognizing it as a shared calamity. When M. Othon's son dies a painful death from the plague, Father Paneloux revises his earlier sermon, stating that the death of innocents forces a choice between complete faith or utter disbelief in God. Later, when he himself falls ill, he refuses medical help, entrusting his fate to divine Providence. His death, however, does not match the symptoms of the plague, leaving his case ambiguous. The epidemic eventually subsides, leaving the city in a state of recovery. The citizens return to their routines, but Dr. Rieux remains vigilant, aware that the bacillus microbe can reactivate after lying dormant for years.

part 1

A yet-to-be-named narrator commits to recounting an eyewitness chronicle. He assures readers of the objectivity of his account, based on his own experiences and other firsthand sources. In Oran, Algeria, a doctor named Bernard Rieux discovers a dead rat. More rodents start dying in public, bleeding heavily. Amidst his wife's health issues, Dr. Rieux initially pays little attention to the dying rats. Various theories start emerging about the rat deaths from people around him, including a journalist, Raymond Rambert, who visits Dr. Rieux to discuss public health among the Arab population. Dr. Rieux's mother moves in as his wife leaves for a sanitarium. Amidst the unease in the public due to the sudden increase in rat deaths, Dr. Rieux suggests sanitation measures to Mercier, the pest control head. The city's response is to collect and burn the rat corpses daily, causing mild public panic, which subsides as the rat deaths stop. Simultaneously, Dr. Rieux encounters a sick M. Michel, who's being cared for by Father Paneloux, a priest. M. Michel's condition worsens, and he dies while being transported to the hospital. More people start succumbing to the same sickness. The narrator introduces Jean Tarrou, a tourist documenting his observations about Oran. Tarrou's notes cover a range of topics, from the mysterious illness to philosophical musings. Dr. Rieux suggests isolating new patients to the head of the medical association, Dr. Richard, who insists that the order must come from the Prefect. Meanwhile, an inquiry into the attempted suicide of Dr. Rieux's former patient, Cottard, takes place. The disease continues to claim lives, with most victims dying after their swellings are lanced. Dr. Rieux and his colleague, Castel, identify the illness as the bubonic plague. They predict that the authorities will deny the reality of the situation. Despite his own experiences, Dr. Rieux struggles to believe the reality of the plague. As the death rate increases, Cottard seems to be hiding something, and Grand, another character, appears to be working on an elusive project. As Dr. Rieux requests for the plague serum from Paris, the city government hesitates in responding to the crisis. The rising death toll adds to the growing unrest, while Cottard exhibits signs of paranoia. The authorities finally acknowledge the plague and quarantine the town when the death rate shoots up. The plague serum arrives, but it's barely enough to treat the immediate cases.

part 2

The people of Oran, quarantined due to the plague, grapple with loneliness and the halt of mail services. The populace resigns to their confinement, with the epidemic's end seeming indeterminable. The citizens, feeling like captives, are kept from panic by their self-centered distress. They frequent cafes and movie theaters to pass the time. Grand tells Dr. Rieux about his failed marriage to Jeanne. Their intense work lives made them forget to love each other, leading her to leave. He struggles to pen a letter explaining his actions. Rambert, desperate to reunite with his wife in Paris, pleads with the authorities to let him leave. Despite his arguments, he is denied permission. He succumbs to lethargy, spending his days in cafes. Dr. Rieux reflects on his detachment from reality, given his responsibility to isolate patients from their families. On Sunday, Father Paneloux preaches that the plague is a punishment for the town's sins. Rambert continues his attempts to leave, but bureaucracy thwarts his efforts. Grand shares his aim to create a flawless book with Rieux. The town's mood escalates towards hysteria. Summer engulfs Oran, and escape attempts become punishable by prison. The death count is reported daily. Rieux's asthmatic patient quips about the growing death toll. Reports of the plague and advertisements for cures fill newspapers. Despite the seriousness of the situation, people indulge in extravagant meals and wines. The plague worsens, and the serum from Paris proves ineffective. Rieux doubts the truthfulness of his wife's health updates. Tarrou proposes a volunteer sanitation league, to which Rieux cautiously agrees. Rieux is skeptical of Paneloux's belief in divine punishment. Tarrou sees calamities as a chance for people to rise above themselves. Rieux considers the idea of abandoning belief in God to focus on fighting death. Tarrou's plan works, but Rieux is reluctant to overstate its impact. He believes people are inherently good, their ignorance being their main flaw. The volunteers work diligently to combat the plague. Grand becomes the sanitation league's general secretary. Rambert explores illegal escape routes, with Cottard, now a smuggler, offering assistance. Despite hitches in the plan, Rambert secures an escape arrangement. Tarrou suggests Rambert help fight the plague, which leads to a heated discussion about heroism. Rambert, learning about Rieux's wife's condition, decides to join the sanitation league until his escape.

part 3

By the middle of August, people start to see the plague as a common catastrophe. It brings "impartial justice", hitting every social class. The death toll is so high that funerals lose their rituals for quick burials. Eventually, mass graves become necessary. When the cemetery runs out of room, bodies start to get cremated. Luckily, the plague doesn't worsen after the crematorium reaches its limit. The memory of the departed fades as despair takes over the population. The people of Oran begin sharing their sufferings with others.

part 4

Grand frequently shares tales of Jeanne with Rieux who, in response, reveals his concerns about his wife's failing health. Struggling to keep his emotions in check, Rieux continues his duties despite heartbreaking family tragedies. Concurrently, Tarrou shows a peculiar interest in Cottard, documenting his fear-laden existence. The plague has lessened Cottard's fear as he now feels a shared burden with others. However, the plague leads to a paradoxical situation where everyone craves human connection but fears it due to the potential risk of infection. A theatrical play ends in panic when the lead actor collapses, akin to a plague victim. Rambert, when given an opportunity to escape, chooses to stay out of guilt. Simultaneously, Castel prepares the first batch of the serum which is administered to Othon's young son. The boy's excruciating death leaves Rieux, Tarrou and Paneloux horrified. Rieux's outburst against Paneloux is a reflection of his frustration with Paneloux's earlier sermon. As the plague worsens, people turn to superstition, resulting in a lesser crowd at Paneloux's next sermon. He continues to uphold his initial sermon, presenting the suffering of innocent children as a test of faith, and urges his congregation not to give up. Paneloux soon falls ill but refuses medical help. Upon his death, Rieux records it as a 'doubtful case' as the symptoms didn't match the plague. After his quarantine, Othon chooses to stay in the camp, hoping to feel closer to his deceased son. This unexpected show of compassion surprises Rieux. During the Christmas season, Grand is struck with melancholy, reminding him of his past with Jeanne. When Grand contracts the plague, Rieux burns his papers as per his request. Miraculously, Grand recovers and the overall plague deaths decrease. The return of the rats is announced by Rieux's asthma patient with joy.

part 5

As the death toll decreases, the townspeople, scarred by their prolonged lockdown, cautiously harbor hope. The effectiveness of Castel's serum and the dwindling signs of the epidemic fan their optimism. Despite this, Othon falls victim to the plague. The authorities announce that the town gates will open in two weeks, though health measures will continue for a month more. Cottard, however, shows unease at the epidemic's impending end. He flees when approached by two men who seem to be government officials, with the men nonchalantly tailing him. When Tarrou contracts the plague, Rieux and his mother tend to him. Tarrou battles the disease bravely but asks Rieux to be forthright about his prognosis. His fight ends in death after a few days. Rieux also learns of his wife's demise via telegram. Upon the town gates opening in February, numerous people flood in. Rambert's wife travels from Paris to reunite with him in Oran. The plague has altered Rambert, making him anticipate their reunion with less fervor than before. Dr. Rieux discloses that he is the chronicle's narrator, aspiring to deliver an unbiased account. His profession allowed him to interact with diverse social strata during the plague. He believes the townsfolk shared common experiences of love, exile, and suffering. He chose to relay events and words without conjecturing about thoughts or feelings. Regarding Cottard, Tarrou stated that his only real crime was endorsing something murderous. Rieux concurs, describing Cottard as lonely and oblivious. As the plague ends, unable to cope, Cottard sequesters himself and begins shooting into the street. He is eventually arrested. Meanwhile, Grand confides in Rieux about a letter to Jeanne, which seems to uplift him, and his decision to continue working on his novel. Rieux's asthmatic patient reflects on Tarrou's death, remarking how the virtuous seem to die first. He notes the peculiar pride some townspeople take in having survived the plague. He predicts a memorial for the deceased, followed by a return to normalcy, as though nothing occurred. Rieux, witnessing the public celebrate the end of their isolation, concurs. Therefore, he chooses to document the experiences of those afflicted, believing the plague has revealed more praiseworthy aspects of humanity than contemptible ones. However, he acknowledges the plague bacteria's ability to lie dormant for years, undermining any conclusive victory.

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