| Quote #16
Once the epidemic was diagnosed, the patient had to be evacuated forthwith. Then indeed began "abstraction" and a tussle with the family, who knew they would not se the sick main again until he was dead or cured. (2.2.69)
Here it seems that abstraction is a tool; by turning himself off to the misery of each family, Rieux finds the strength to continue. He focuses not on real suffering, but on the abstract idea of "doing what needs to be done."
| Quote #17
Then came the second phase of conflict, tears and pleadings—abstraction, in a word. In those fever-hot, nerve-ridden sickrooms crazy scenes took place. But the issue was always the same. The patient was removed. Then Rieux, too, could leave.
On the other hand, abstraction distracts from the issues at hand; in this case, tears and pleadings mask the real problem – death.
| Quote #18
Yes, plagues, like abstraction, was monotonous; perhaps only one factor changed, and that was Rieux himself. Standing at the front of the statue of the Republic that evening, he felt it; all he was conscious of was a bleak indifference steadily gaining on him as he gazed at the door of the hotel Rambert had just entered. (2.2.73)
Rieux does indeed change over the course of the novel; he becomes more indifferent to the horrors of the plague. Yet this goads him onward, rather than rendering him passive or apathetic. How can he maintain the will to stop suffering if he is indifferent to that very suffering?