The Plague Criminality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Stuart Gilbert's translation.
"I realized he was clamoring for the prisoner’s death, telling the jury they owed it to society to find him guilty; he went so far as to demand that the man should have his head cut off. […] It fell to him […] to be present at what’s politely termed the prisoner’s last moments, but what would be better called murder in its most despicable form." (4.6.22)
Tarrou perhaps suffers from a Rieux-like case of oversimplification: the world is black and white, there are only victims and pestilences, so any man killing any other man is clearly murder.
"I, who saw the whole business through to its conclusion, felt a far closer, far more terrifying intimacy with that wretched man than my father can ever have felt." (4.6.22)
Hrm…all right, we’re stuck. You guys tell us – why does Tarrou feel such an intimate kinship with the condemned man? Is it, perhaps, because we are all condemned to die, in one way or another?
"Have you ever seen a man shot by a firing-squad? […] You’ve gleaned your ideas about it from books and pictures. A post, a blindfolded man, some soldiers in the offing. But the real thing isn’t a bit like that. Do you know the firing-squad stands only a yard and a half from the condemned man? Do you know that if the victim took two steps forward his chest would touch the rifles? Do you know that, at this short range, the soldiers concentrate their fire on the region of the heart and their bullets make a hole into which you could thrust your fist? No, you didn’t know all that; those are the things that are never spoken of. For the plague-stricken their peace of mind is more important than a human life. Decent folks must be allowed to sleep easy o’nights, mustn’t they? Really it would be shockingly bad taste to linger on such details, that’s common knowledge." (4.6.28)
In this rather intense passage, Tarrou accomplishes two tasks. First, he conveys to Rieux (and therefore to the reader) the intensity of his hatred for death of any kind, as well as justifying that hatred with powerful imagery. Second, he condemns those of us who would sweep these images under the rug, who would ignore them because of their sheer intensity. Death, he argues, is something we have to look in the face. If we as a society are going to condemn men to die at our own hands, we must at least be willing to watch the bloody results of our decisions.