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In February, the town finally gets around to opening the gates already.
The narrator says he himself was excluded from the festivities, but he’ll try to give us an account of them anyway.
Account: parties, in a nutshell, except Camus is French so they’re called "Fêtes."
Trains are packed both in and out of town.
The narrator turns his attention to the parted lovers, on whom he focused so much earlier.
Actually, he turns to one parted lover in particular: Rambert. While he once wanted nothing in the world more than his "wife," he too has been greatly changed by the plague; he has become detached, and feels the need to shake it off before the train of happiness "bear[s] down on him full speed."
When this woman of his finally does get off the train and flings herself exuberantly into his arms, he’s not sure if his tears are of sorrow or joy. He, much like Rieux, knows that plague cannot come and go without changing men’s hearts.
So before we crack open the champagne, the narrator would remind us that there are many for whom the plague never ends, those who have lost husbands or sons or mothers to the pestilence.
But, while we’re paying attention to these people, no one else is. They’re all dancing in the streets.
Rambert and his "wife" are one of many recently reunited couples strolling the streets, the Oran-half of the couple pointing out to the exiled half all the places of suffering.
But the narrator sees them all "calmly deny[ing]" the fact that they all had "lived in a crazy world in which men were killed off like flies."
Rieux walks through town and ponders what "exile" and "longing for reunion" really mean. On that note, actually, he decides that it doesn’t really matter whether or not "such things" do or do not have meaning.
Rather, what does matter is the answer (or response) that’s given to men’s hope.
Rieux establishes that very answer once he makes it to the outskirts of town, to the "almost empty streets."
First he considers the various outcomes of hope, particularly with reference to parted lovers. Sometimes it’s no good, as you end up alone anyway; sometimes you lose yourself to desperation; sometimes you realize you weren’t terribly in love to begin with, etc.
But to those who had hoped for something greater, something more, "there had been no answer." Only those who limit their desires to man and the "humble, formidable" love of man can ever be satisfied.