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The Plague

The Plague


by Albert Camus

The Plague Part 4, Chapter 4 Summary

  • So let’s talk about Father Paneloux. He’s joined Rieux’s workers and has been are the forefront of the fight ever since. Since the day they all saw M. Othon’s son die, he’s been a little different (troubled, perhaps is the word).
  • He’s also writing an essay called "Is a Priest Justified in Consulting a Doctor?"
  • Paneloux gives another sermon, though this time to a smaller congregation (possibly because everyone realized the first sermon didn’t do anything, possibly because everyone keeps dying).
  • Actually, the narrator clarifies, it’s because the novelty isn’t there this time. In fact, the word "novelty" has lost its meaning altogether.
  • Superstition, it seems, has replaced religion. Concurrently, interest has risen in old prophecies that the population looks toward to explain the plague.
  • Obviously, there is money to be made here. The printing firms capitalize on the craze. When they run out of real historical prophecies, they just make up new predictions. Reassuring ones, of course.
  • The point is, the church is only three-quarters full when Paneloux delivers his sermon. Everyone notices that instead of saying "you," he now says "we."
  • He says he still believes in what he said the first time around (that the people of Oran deserved the plague, we guess), but he admits there wasn’t much "charity" in his words.
  • We should look on the bright side, he says: everything is always for the best! This means there’s a lesson to be learned here.
  • Of course, he continues, there is good and there is evil; but we have trouble when we examine the nature of evil, like a child suffering.
  • He’d like to tell us that the child will be compensated in heaven for his pain, but quite honestly, he doesn’t know that for sure.
  • Basically, Paneloux confesses, his back is to the wall. He, and in fact all of them, have to either believe everything or deny everything. Religion, it seems, is a package deal.
  • After all, he says, the religion of plague time can’t be the religion of regular time.
  • Once, Paneloux tells us, a historical writer guy (who remains nameless) tried to say that everyone was either a Christian or not; either saved, or damned.
  • When we experience this complete acceptance, he reveals, we can understand that a child suffering is God’s will, and therefore it’s OK.
  • Now, he knows that the "ugly word ‘fatalism’" will be applied to this. He’s fine with this, as long as people call it "active fatalism."
  • So, somehow, we need to accept that God wants it this way (hence the "fatalism"), but at the same time fight against it (hence the word "active").
  • Father Paneloux tells them of an outbreak of the Black Death at Marseille where 77 of 81 monks died, three fled, and only one stayed behind. He insists with a banging of his fist: "My brothers, each one of us must be the one who stays!"
  • He then refers to the Black Death (a.k.a. the plague) at Marseille and one Bishop Belzunce, who he claims shut himself up in a palace with food to avoid the plague. The people responded by throwing dead, infected bodies over the walls at him to make sure he died.
  • (Historical Note: As far as we can tell, Bishop Belzunce is historically portrayed as a hero during this outbreak at Marseille. Either Camus got this history wrong, or he paints a deliberate portrait of Father Paneloux misrepresenting – intentionally or not – the true events of history.)
  • Right about the time Paneloux gets to the part about children contributing their share to God’s divine message, a violent gust of wind sweeps through the doors of the church, bringing with it rain and blatant symbolism.
  • As he leaves the church, Rieux overhears an elderly priest and a younger deacon discussing the sermon: the elder believes it betrayed an uneasiness on the part of Paneloux.
  • The young deacon reveals that The Church (that is, the institution of men) is none too happy with Paneloux; it’s illogical, he says, for a priest to call in a doctor.
  • Rieux later relates this conversation to Tarrou, who replies cryptically that when a religious man witnesses a young man who has lost his eyes, that religious man must either lose his faith, or consent to have his own eyes destroyed.
  • The narrator prepares us to keep these words in mind while we witness the following "regrettable events."
  • A few days after his sermon, Paneloux is asked to move his residence. A lot of people have had to do this, we are told, because of plague conditions. Tarrou, for example, now lives with Rieux, since his own hotel has become a place of quarantine.
  • So Paneloux moves in with an elderly woman. Meanwhile, he doesn’t look so good, health-wise. Also, he doesn’t get along with this woman; it’s nothing serious, but it certainly doesn’t help when everyone is on edge to begin with.
  • The only account we have of what is to follow, the narrator tells us, comes from the lips of this old woman.
  • Seeing Paneloux sick one morning, she suggests calling a doctor. He vetoes the idea, so she leaves him alone.
  • He later sends for her to insist that he doesn’t have the plague (none of its symptoms, he says), and again refuses a doctor, as it is against his principles.
  • So she continues to take care of him, without a doctor, with tea and check-ups and such. He seems restless, sweaty, incoherent, and all around unwell.
  • By the following morning he looks even worse; he still declines to see a doctor, but wishes to be taken to the hospital so as to comply with regulations.
  • The old woman rushes to the phone and calls Rieux; when the doctor arrives, the priest is indifferent.
  • Rieux finds no sign of the plague, though the priest is obviously ill. Paneloux declines Rieux’s offer to stay with him, as "priests can have no friends" other than God.
  • Paneloux is taken to the hospital where he stares continuously at a crucifix. He coughs up some blood and shortly thereafter dies.
  • We end the chapter on the image of the index card recording his name and the words "Doubtful case."
  • Oh, Camus. You’re just so clever. We don’t even know what to do with you.

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