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The Plague

The Plague


by Albert Camus

Dr. Bernard Rieux Timeline and Summary

  • Dr. Bernard Rieux discusses the rats with the concierge, M. Michel.
  • He speaks with his wife, who is lying ill on the bathroom floor.
  • Rieux visits his asthmatic patient and again discusses the rats.
  • He puts his wife on the train and bids her good-bye, feeling only mildly guilty about not being able to take care of her while she’s sick.
  • The doctor runs into M. Othon and his small son.
  • Rieux refuses to give an interview to journalist Raymond Rambert if the man doesn’t intend on publishing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
  • Rieux briefly bumps into Jean Tarrou; rats are mentioned.
  • He sees M. Michel again, who looks even worse than before.
  • Rieux greets his mother when she arrives and again visits the gleeful Spaniard.
  • Seeing the concierge leaning on Father Paneloux for help, Rieux gives the guy a brief once-over and agrees to see him later.
  • He receives a phone-call from Grand asking for help and heads to the scene of Cottard’s attempted suicide. Rieux declares it is his duty to report the incident to the police.
  • Rieux finds Michel in an even worse condition; he phones Dr. Richard and finds that his colleague has also been treating patients with "swollen ganglia."
  • We hear a description of Rieux from Tarrou, who says he is thirty-five, knowledgeable but absent-minded, with dark hair and dark eyes.
  • Rieux calls Richard up again and suggests they inform the Prefect about the growing pestilence.
  • The doctor drives to Faidherbe to take part in the brief investigation into Cottard’s suicide attempt.
  • He discusses language with Grand while they wait for the inspector.
  • Rieux later visits more patients with swollen ganglia.
  • He declares in a meeting of the minds that this is in fact the plague.
  • The doctor has a hard time accepting the reality of the plague and of mass death. He decides, however, to simply face the facts and do his job.
  • Rieux meets up with Grand and Cottard to talk about the rising death count.
  • After Grand leaves for some mysterious business, Rieux wonders how the plague could break out in a city with harmless men like that.
  • Rieux pulls together a meeting at the Prefect’s office to convince everyone that this is plague.
  • He argues with Dr. Castel that it doesn’t matter what language they use to describe it – but they need to act as though it were an outbreak of the plague.
  • The doctor drives past a bloody, dying woman on his way out of the meeting.
  • He discusses Cottard with Grand, who says the man has been particularly "amiable" lately.
  • Rieux listens to Grand relate his tobacconist-store experience with Cottard.
  • The doctor meets with Castel; they’re still waiting for the serum from Paris.
  • Rieux realizes that the funny feeling in his stomach is fear.
  • He goes to visit Cottard, and is interrogated as to whether or not a man in the hospital could be arrested. "It depends," Rieux answers.
  • Rieux visits his old, asthmatic patient, who is still chuckling over the whole plague situation.
  • Fed up with all these words and lack of action, Rieux again calls the Prefect and insists that action be taken to halt the spread of the pestilence.
  • Once the gates are closed, Rieux realizes that the people of Oran still can’t comprehend what all these deaths really mean. Reality hasn’t sunken in yet.
  • Rieux bumps into Cottard, who is quite cheery with regards to the plague.
  • Later that same day, he also bumps into Grand, who tells the long story of his marriage.
  • Several weeks later, Rieux encounters Rambert.
  • The doctor refuses to give Rambert a note saying he’s clean of infection, since everyone in the town is in the same position.
  • They debate the word "abstraction," and Rieux concludes that you have to fight abstraction when it sets out to kill you.
  • Rieux treats some patients; it’s gory and includes splitting open buboes (swollen lymph nodes) and draining them of puss and blood. Let this be a lesson to all you would-be pre-meds.
  • Rieux decides he’s become indifferent, as that’s the only way to survive the horrors of his job.
  • Together with Grand, the doctor witnesses a lunatic out on the street.
  • Rieux goes to Grand’s place and reads Grand’s one-sentence manuscript.
  • Rieux brings Tarrou with him when he visits the old Spaniard.
  • He discusses the plague with his mother, who isn’t afraid of it at all.
  • When Tarrou suggests raising volunteer teams to fight the plague, Rieux counters that volunteers would likely die.
  • The two men debate; Rieux argues that, because he doesn’t believe in God, it’s up to man to save his neighbors.
  • They agree to build up teams of volunteers.
  • As the plague continues, Grand, Rieux, and Tarrou regularly get together to chat about Grand’s literary endeavor.
  • Rieux declares that the rest of the world can’t understand suffering in Oran, since they are not sharing in the suffering themselves.
  • Rieux listens to Rambert complain about being separated from his "wife."
  • While Rambert and Cottard are sketchily hanging about in dark corners, Rieux and Tarrou drive up; it is unclear to each person just how much information each other person knows.
  • Later, Rieux listens to Rambert as he tries to justify his attempts at leaving town.
  • Along with Tarrou, the doctor tries to convince Rambert to stay and help with the volunteers.
  • When Rieux tells Cottard that a man recovered from the plague, Cottard is none-too-pleased.
  • Rieux discovers, along with Tarrou, that Cottard did something not-so-legal in the past, and that was the reason for his suicide attempt.
  • While Rambert is scheming to leave Oran, Rieux argues to him that the volunteer teams aren’t about being a hero, but rather about being a merely decent man.
  • As the plague continues, Rieux and his volunteer teams aren’t doing so bad after all in fighting the good fight.
  • Rieux and others are depressed to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is gone; people have given up hope.
  • The doctor discusses his absent wife with Grand; while he’s received positive telegrams from her, he has a feeling she’s lying to make him feel better.
  • As Dr. Castel tries out the anti-plague serum on M. Othon’s son, Rieux notices how weary his colleague looks.
  • The doctor remarks that he has to try extra hard these days to not be sentimental. The fatigue helps, actually.
  • Rieux listens to Rambert confess his cowardice on a drunken evening when he momentarily thought he had the plague. Rieux comforts the journalist.
  • The doctor clarifies that the reason he hasn’t turned Rambert in for trying to escape is that, hey, who is he to judge? He doesn’t know what’s "right" or "wrong."
  • Rieux has a weighty discussion with Rambert on the night of the man’s attempted escape; Rieux concludes that at the moment, curing is the most important action.
  • The doctor doesn’t take it well when young Jacques Othon dies from the plague; he argues about it with Dr. Paneloux, claiming that he isn’t interested in big words or grand religious ideas – he just wants to save lives.
  • However, he does recognize that he and Paneloux are united in their end causes, if not in their means of fighting.
  • Rieux attends Father Paneloux’s second sermon. Afterwards, he overhears a priest and a deacon talking about Paneloux.
  • We hear that Tarrou has now moved in with Rieux.
  • The doctor is summoned to Paneloux’s bedside, but he doesn’t think it’s the plague. He takes the priest to the hospital, where he dies.
  • Rieux accompanies Tarrou to visit the asthmatic patient; the doctor listens to Tarrou tell his life story.
  • The two men chill on the balcony and then go swimming together.
  • Rieux’s one significant contribution to the conversation is his claim that he has more in common with the defeated than he does with saints. Rather than be a hero, he’s looking to be a man.
  • Rieux gets a letter from M. Othon and is angry to find that he’s accidentally been kept in quarantine too long; he arranges to have the magistrate released.
  • The doctor is talked into writing a letter to his wife, but finds that he has difficulty manipulating the language properly to do so.
  • Along with Tarrou, Rieux happens upon Grand, crying in the street. He concludes that "a loveless world is a dead world."
  • Rieux takes Grand to the hospital and treats him for the plague; he witnesses Grand’s miraculous recovery.
  • Once the plague is receding and the citizens are celebrating, Rieux can’t help but remember that those who have lost loved ones and are unable to rejoice.
  • Rieux has to put up with repeated visits from Cottard, who wants to know if the plague is really over or not.
  • The doctor discovers that Tarrou has fallen ill; he takes care of Tarrou until his death. Rieux is bothered by his inability to help his friend.
  • After Tarrou’s death, Rieux reflects on how difficult it must be to live as Tarrou did, without hope or illusions.
  • Rieux receives a telegram informing him of his wife’s death.
  • The doctor wanders about in the midst of the gate-opening celebration. He ponders the meaning of several terms, but concludes that, meaning be damned, the only thing that really matters is the response man gets in return for his hoping.
  • Turns out, there is no answer. The only people who end up satisfied, he decides, are those who limit their desires to man and the love of man.
  • Rieux confesses to being the narrator, but says that he stayed true to his goal of objectivity.
  • He clarifies that the only man he is ill-equipped to speak of is Cottard.
  • Speaking of Cottard, Rieux (along with Grand) witnesses him in a madman shoot-out that ends in Cottard’s arrest.
  • Rieux visits the Spaniard and goes out to the terrace, where he is inspired to write is account of the plague.
  • He reveals his purpose for telling us this story: that we might learn and remember, should we ever be stricken with the plague.

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