The Plague Criminality Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"In any case, my concern was not with arguments. It was with the poor owl; with that foul procedure whereby dirty mouths stinking of plague told a fettered man that he was going to die, and scientifically arranged things so that he should die, after nights and nights of mental torture while he waited to be murdered in cold blood. My concern was with that hole in a man’s chest." (4.6.29)
No abstraction for Tarrou. While a man arguing his case could very easily turn to ideas, Tarrou stays with the concrete, with this one particular man, with this one hole in this one chest.
But there was at least one of our townsfolk for whom Dr. Rieux could not speak, the man of whom Tarrou said one day to Rieux: "His only real crime is that of having in his heart approved of something that killed off men, women, and children. I can understand the rest, but for that I am obliged to pardon him." (5.5.4)
Tarrou’s description of Cottard is an interesting one. He has already established that all men cause the deaths of others, and that our only course is to be as "innocent" a "murderer" as possible. Cottard, it would seem, doesn’t fit the bill. He’s a murderer like everyone else, but being somewhat complicit – at least emotionally – in the plague’s attack, he is far from an innocent one.
Rieux had a brief glimpse of the small man, on his feet now, in the middle of the road, his arms pinioned behind him by two police officers. He was still screaming. A policeman went up and dealt him two hard blows with his fists, quite calmly, with a sort of conscientious thoroughness. "It’s Cottard!" Grand’s voice was shrill with excitement. (5.5.18-9)
Unable to escape to make a go of it in the real, plague-free world, Cottard simply reverts to what he has convinced himself is his societal role: a criminal.