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We meet Jean Tarrou when Rieux bumps into him briefly.
The narrator informs us that Tarrou is rich, doesn’t work, and is staying in a fancy hotel in the center of town.
He also keeps a diary, into which we now delve:
Tarrou records a conversation between two streetcar drivers over a man named "Camps" and whether or not he died.
He describes his cat-spitting neighbor.
He wonders how to not waste time and concludes that the best method is to fill your day with useless tasks, so as to be constantly aware of time.
He records that, when there are no cats, the cat-spitting man just spits on nothing. Dejectedly, we might add.
He observes an odd family (owl father, poodle children) that turns out to be the Othons.
Tarrou discusses the rats with his hotel manager, declares it’s all the same to him whether or not the plague is contagious, and then clearly insists that he is NOT a fatalist.
As the plague worsens, Tarrou observes that much of life goes on as usual, and in particular the cat-spitting man.
The situation worsens. Tarrou records in his journal that death tolls are not reported daily, not weekly.
He watches the cat-spitting man again. There are still no cats to spit on.
Tarrou discusses the Othon family with the hotel manager; if the manager wants to label the mother "under suspicion" of having the plague, he has to realize that everyone else is town is similarly under suspicion.
Tarrou comments on Father Paneloux’s first sermon; there’s always powerful rhetoric at the beginning and end of a crisis, he says, but he’s interested in waiting for the middle silence, in which one is "hardened to the truth."
It becomes apparent that Tarrou has an affinity for Rieux’s mother and her kind gaze, which he believes will allow her to triumph over the plague.
Tarrou accompanies Dr. Rieux to visit the asthmatic patient and later returns alone.
He records the visit in his journal, commenting that the old man is only in bed all day because he chooses as much.
He wonders whether the man is a saint and concludes that, yes, he is, if saintliness is "the aggregation of habits."
Observing the town in general, Tarrou writes that people have nothing to do all day, are spending money freely, and have turned from religion to pleasure.
He concludes that death means nothing to people like him, a fact that becomes obvious just as soon as you die.
Tarrou asks to speak with Rieux and in their meeting adamantly insists they recruit some volunteer teams to help fight the plague.
He is curious that the doctor can be so devoted to his work if he doesn’t believe in God.
He agrees with Rieux that suffering is an excellent teacher.
Tarrou declares that he knows everything there is to know in the world. His own actions, he adds, are defined by his code of morals – comprehension.
Indeed, Tarrou builds up his team of sanitary workers.
As the plague continues, he regularly gets together with Grand and Rieux to discuss Grand’s literary ambitions.
While Cottard and Rambert are being sketchy, Tarrou drives up in Rieux’s car with the doctor in the passenger seat. Each man is unsure of just how much the other men know about the shady dealings.
When M. Othon saunters up, Tarrou declares that he is "Enemy Number One" because he’s a police magistrate.
Tarrou, along with the doctor, tries to convince Rambert to stay in Oran and help with their volunteer efforts.
Tarrou and the doctor discuss with Cottard a patient that miraculously recovered, though Cottard is none-too-pleased to hear it.
When Tarrou suggests that Cottard could be arrested, Cottard flips out and starts screaming.
Still trying to convince Rambert to stay, Tarrou informs him that Rieux, too, is separated from his wife. Except Rieux’s taking it like a man instead of a whiny little brat. At least, that’s the implication.
As time goes on, Tarrou’s diaries feature less of the general public and focus more on Cottard.
Because Tarrou is a good listener and generally non-judgmental, Cottard likes to spend time with him and talk about his feelings of isolation.
Tarrou advises that the best way to avoid isolation is to have a clear conscience.
He decides that Cottard is an "accomplice" of the plague, and that everyone in town, though lonely, will always be kept apart by their mistrust of one another.
He adds that everyone is now living the way Cottard has always lived: in constant fear that, at any moment, life may be snatched away. He thinks Cottard likes the company.
Tarrou attends the opera with Cottard and witnesses the actor playing Orpheus collapse to the floor with the plague.
When Tarrou hears of Rambert’s impending departure, he congratulates rather than berates him and says that, at his age, lying takes too much effort to be worth it.
He leads Rambert through the sick ward so that he can speak with Rieux.
Tarrou listens to Dr. Rieux relate the conversation he heard between the priest and the deacon about Father Paneloux.
We hear from the narrator that Tarrou has moved in with Dr. Rieux, since his hotel has been converted to a ward.
Tarrou’s journal records a trip he made with Rambert and Gonzales to the stadium at the outskirts of town that has been converted to an isolation camp.
He wonders why the camp, once noisy and lively, has become sullen and silent. He believes it is because no one wants to listen to anyone else complain anymore; no one has the energy for sympathy.
Tarrou concludes that in any crisis, people have trouble thinking of others.
He lies to M. Othon by saying that Jacques (M. Othon’s son) didn’t suffer much before he died.
While he feels sympathetic for the man, Tarrou doesn’t think anything can be done for him because he is a judge (and therefore Enemy Number One).
Tarrou accompanies Rieux to visit the asthmatic patient and tells his life story on the terrace.
Turns out, Tarrou’s father was a prominent prosecutor. As a young man, Tarrou went to see his father strut his stuff in court and the young Tarrou ended up siding with the criminal entirely.
He deemed the death penalty to be murder and his father therefore a murderer, so he left home.
After that, he became an agitator, protesting against capital punishment.
He also realized that he had the plague, that everyone had the plague, that many were unaware of this fact, and that many were awake but satisfied to leave things as they were.
All he knows, he says, is that they have to fight against it.
The good man, he says, is the man with the fewest lapses of attention.
Yet, he maintains that he isn’t really in a position to judge anyone.
Tarrou does, however, seem to have a pretty clear-cut picture of the world. There are pestilences and there are people, and it’s pretty clear whose side we should be on here.
He adds that language is the problem of the world; we don’t have clear, efficient language.
Tarrou argues that you can’t avoid being a murderer, so you should try to be "an innocent murderer."
Now that he thinks about it, there is a third category, in addition to pestilences and victims: healers. He’d like to be a healer.
Or actually, now that he thinks about it, what he’d really like to be is a saint, which he’s having a hard time doing since he doesn’t believe in God.
Discourse finished, he goes for a swim with Rieux.
Tarrou is with Rieux when both men witness Grand standing on the street and weeping.
He assists the doctor in getting the plague-ridden Grand to a hospital, where he will eventually recover.
Tarrou accompanies Rieux to visit the Spaniard; when they see that the rats are coming back, Tarrou wonders if this means the plague is starting all over again.
When M. Othon dies, Tarrou remarks that the man clearly "had no luck."
While everyone is celebrating the plague’s recession, Tarrou, along with Rieux and Rambert, can’t help but recognize all those who are still grieving.
At this point, Tarrou’s journal entries start to get a little erratic.
He notes that the cat-spitting man hasn’t been around lately, and may in fact be dead.
He also may be a saint, although Tarrou thinks that is unlikely. He then adds that maybe we can only reach "approximations" of sainthood.
Tarrou touches more on his affinity for Rieux’s mother, who reminds him of his own "kind" and "gentle" mom.
His journals then focus more on Cottard, who is nervous about the plague coming to an end and what that might mean for him.
Tarrou says with a smile that the plague coming to an end just means that there will be new films playing at the movie theater.
He is with Cottard (and records the incident in his journal) when two authoritative figures ask to speak with him. Tarrou witnesses Cottard run away.
The diary ends, but Tarrou records at the end that there is always a certain hour of day when man’s courage is at its lowest; this hour is the only thing he fears.
Tarrou gets the plague and, amazingly, seems to have both strains of it at once.
He tells Rieux that he’ll fight, but he wants to die well if he’s going to die. He insists that the doctor tell him the truth about his condition at every instance.
Tarrou seems to share a close if silent connection with Mme. Rieux while he’s on his deathbed.
Tarrou dies, and Rieux contemplates what it would be like to live such a life as his, with no hope or illusions.