by Albert Camus
The Plague Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Stuart Gilbert's translation.
When for the third time the fiery wave broke on him, lifting him a little, the child curled himself up and shrank away to the edge of the bed, as if in terror of the flames advancing on him, licking his limbs. A moment later, after tossing his head wildly to and fro, he flung off the blanket. From between the inflamed eyelids big tears welled up and trickled down the sunken, leaden-hued cheeks. When the spasm had passed, utterly exhausted, tensing his thin legs and arms, on which, within forty-eight hours, the flesh had wasted to the bone, the child lay flat, racked on the tumbled bed, in a grotesque parody of crucifixion. (4.3.24)
Not exactly the subtlest religious imagery we’ve ever read, but OK. To start, you’ve got all the flames, which reminds us of Hell, but the "crucifixion" bit at the end is what really gives it away.
In the small face, rigid as a mask of grayish clay, slowly the lips parted and from them rose a long, incessant scream, hardly varying with his respiration, and filling the ward with a fierce, indignant protest […]. Paneloux gazed down at the small mouth, fouled with the sores of the plague and pouring out the angry death-cry that has sounded through the ages of mankind. He sank on his knees, and all present found it natural to hear him say in a voice hoarse but clearly audible across that nameless, neverending wail:
"My God, spare this child!"
But the wail continued without cease. (4.3.30-32)
Camus seems to drive home his point that prayers and religion are useless in an indifferent world of suffering. Paneloux’s cry is met with a further wail from the tortured child, which is as close as you’re going to get to divine intervention in this novel.
"I understand," Paneloux said in a low voice. "That sort of thing is revolting because it passes our human understanding. But perhaps we should love what we cannot understand."
Rieux straightened up slowly. He gazed at Paneloux, summoning to his gaze all the strength and fervor he could muster against his weariness. Then he shook his head.
"No, Father. I’ve a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put up to torture."
A shade of disquietude crossed the priest’s face. "Ah, doctor," he said sadly, "I’ve just realized what is meant by ‘grace’." (4.3.50-53)
Great – Paneloux realizes what is meant by "grace." Too bad he doesn’t let us in on the secret. Good thing we looked it up. In Christianity, grace is sometimes defined as unconditional belief in God. Clearly, Rieux’s belief is conditional, since he uses the horrors of the plague as evidence that God does not exist.