Update: status quo. Everyone’s still waiting for the plague to pass.
No, actually, they’ve given up waiting and so live "as if [they have] no future."
Now that the pneumonic strain of the plague is more prevalent, the patients are a bit more cooperative with the doctor (whereas earlier they were all, "Arghh, hold me down while I flail about and get puss all over you").
Rieux gets a letter from M. Othon, who is, by clerical mistake, still stuck in quarantine. The doctor looks into the matter, but Othon seems forgiving rather than indignant over the error. Rieux concludes that "something had changed" in the man. (That is, having your son die a torturous death is a humbling, life-altering experience.)
Also, it’s apparently an experience that makes you into a crazy person. M. Othon actually wants to go back to the quarantine camp as a volunteer. It makes him feel "less separated" from his dead son.
Rieux arranges for this, noting again the change in the magistrate.
Which brings us to Christmas in Oran.
Rambert, because he’s no longer trying to escape Oran, has fulfilled his craving for illicit activities by corresponding with his "wife" via letters (which were outlawed when the town was quarantined).
The journalist suggests to Rieux that he do the same thing, and the doctor is all, "OK."
So Rieux sits down to write a letter, only to find that he’s "manipulating a language that he had forgotten."
Meanwhile, how’s the rest of our cast doing? Again, status quo. Cottard is making money hand over fist with his illegal smuggling transactions, and Grand is not doing so well.
"Not well" is a bit of an understatement. Grand doesn’t show up for the men’s usual evening hangouts, and Rieux goes looking for him when he hears the guy is wandering about "looking very queer."
Rieux and Tarrou finally find Grand standing in front of a shop window, staring in at the wooden toys on display and crying.
The doctor understands; surely Grand is remembering some scene there with his wife Jeanne. Grand, he thinks, must be thinking what Rieux himself has concluded: "a loveless world is a dead world."
Grand turns to Rieux but (surprise) can’t find the words to express himself. Neither can Rieux. Finally, Grand expresses a desire to write to his wife, to let her know that she should be happy without feeling guilty of the fact that she abandoned her husband and left him alone to suffer through the plague, death, and misery of Oran.
Like we said, Grand isn’t doing too well. He collapses on the pavement.
Grand is on the ground. Rieux and Tarrou take him to a bed, where he very poetically sinks into extreme prostration.
Consumed by plague and general non-enjoyable sensations throughout his entire body, Grand asks the men to go get his manuscript.
The writing has grown to fifty pages! No, wait, it’s just the same sentence written out in endless variety.
Except for the end of the fifty pages, which reads, "My dearest Jeanne, Today is Christmas Day and…"
He has Rieux read again the sentence about the young horsewoman on a fine morning in May.
Grand isn’t pleased with his use of the word "fine," but as there’s no time to fix it, he’d really prefer that Rieux just burn the thing.
The doctor complies, and everyone concludes that Grand is going to die overnight.
OK, now that we’re done with…wait a second…Grand recovers.
Some other nameless and otherwise insignificant character who is clearly here for contrived, plot-based purposes also recovers!
When Tarrou and the doctor visit the asthmatic Spaniard, he is gleeful to see that the rats have returned to Oran.
Tarrou, ever the optimist, asks if that means it’s starting all over again.