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The Plague

The Plague

by Albert Camus

The Plague Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary

  • It's now mid-August, and (surprise) matters haven’t gotten much better.
  • While some people still pretend to have the freedom of choice, in fact everyone suffers from a "collective destiny." Oh, and everyone still feels "exiled" and "deprived."
  • And it’s windy. Like, Mary Poppins windy, which is bad news when you live on an unprotected plateau.
  • So far, the plague has been semi-limited to the outer districts of the town. But now it’s hitting the center of the Oran, where all the businesses are.
  • The authorities start quarantining certain areas, which helps, because everyone that doesn’t live there in those areas can feel better about themselves.
  • Unfortunately, many people think burning their houses down is a good way to get rid of the plague.
  • The prisoners are suffering outbreaks, and "impartial justice" is thus rained down on everyone – prisoners and wardens alike.
  • Martial law has been declared. The authorities try to think of some way to honor people like the jail guards who die of infection, but not surprisingly, a "plague medal" of honor isn’t exactly incentive or reward for dying.
  • There are more escape attempts at the now armed gates; causalities ensue.
  • Looting and criminality rise, so the authorities order an eleven o’clock curfew.
  • Great. Now everyone’s angry and bored.
  • Now for something completely different: funerals. There are just so many bodies, funerals have to be quick and dirty. The family members are usually in quarantine and therefore can’t really attend to ceremony anyway.
  • Just think of this as Costco-style funerals: everything is in bulk. The coffin gets shoved onto the ambulance-turned-hearse, is taken as quickly as possible to the cemetery, dumps the coffin into the ground, and runs away to get disinfected.
  • Since the act of living gets more complicated (in terms of mundane tasks like obtaining food), concern with death and "proper funerals" goes away.
  • At first they segregated the bulk grave pits; one big hole for men, one for women. But this came to be too much trouble.
  • The good news is, the "ultimate indignity" coincides with "the plague’s last ravages."
  • Really? Last? Yippee, in a word.
  • But hold your horses. The narrator wants to talk a bit more about the dead-body-gender-segregation time period.
  • During said time range, Rieux has trouble with his staff of sanitary workers, many of whom have been dying of the plague. Yet, amazingly, there always seems to be more men to take their place.
  • Why is this so? Well, with the town plague-ridden, no one has a job anyway. How convenient.
  • This is good for the Prefect, who doesn’t have to resort to forcing the prisoners to do the "rough work" (like shoveling about the dead, diseased bodies).
  • By the end of August, however, the cemeteries are looking pretty crowded.
  • At first they tried more efficient packing methods, but they soon had to resort to burning.
  • They open up a line where the streetcars can be utilized to carry the dead bodies to the crematorium.
  • The doctors all get together and agree that the smoke from the crematorium, while quite odorous, won't be particularly harmful, which is nice.
  • The narrator would like to treat us to the tale of a heroic or memorable deed, but he can’t. The fact is, disease is boring and monotonous.
  • The plague, he says, isn’t grandiose – it’s "a skilled organizer" doing its work steadily.
  • That is why, the narrator explains, he has tried so hard for objectivity; he’s trying to tell us what this nasty business was like. He’s not shooting for "artistic effect" here.
  • As the plague continues, he explains, even the pain of separation – which he earlier said was the toughest to endure – begins to ebb.
  • Why? Is it that everybody got used to being without their loved ones?
  • No, he says, not so much. It’s more that they have difficulty imagining the missing person and what they may be doing.
  • In fact, people have a hard time feeling emotion at all these days. They don’t even passionately long for a cure anymore. They’ve simply gotten used to the conditions of suffering.
  • To some, like Dr. Rieux, this is the most depressing thing of all.
  • With no hope for the future and no memory of the past, people live for the moment only.
  • Of course, not everyone arrived at this sort of despairing apathy at the same time; and some still had flashes of agony or of hope.
  • Additionally, it seems as though everyone has become homogenized. People no longer have individual interests or personalities.
  • Some just wish they would get the plague already, since then they could sleep; but the narrator reminds us that these people are "asleep already," that "the town [is] peopled with sleepwalkers."
  • Basically, everyone stops giving a d--n about living; they "cease to choose for themselves."
  • Everyone is alike in that they are "pledged" to the same death, even those who are separated from their lovers (which earlier the narrator had placed in a separate category from the others).
  • Blind endurance, he says of himself and the town, has "ousted love from all our hearts."
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