How we cite our quotes:
A tranquility so casual and thoughtless seemed almost effortlessly to give the lie to those old pictures of the plague: Chinese towns cluttered up with victims silent in their agony; the convicts at Marseille piling rotten corpses into pits; the building of the Great Wall in Provence to fend off the furious plague-wind; the damp, putrefying pallets stuck to the mud floor at the Constantinople lazar-house, where the patients were hauled up from their beds with hooks; the carnival of masked doctors at the Black Death; […] nights and days filled always, everywhere, with the eternal cry of human pain. No, all these horrors were not near enough as yet even to ruffle the equanimity of that spring afternoon. (1.5.6)
Try as they might to ponder the horrors of the plague, Rieux and others can’t comprehend them. The Plague reminds us of how easy it is to write off the suffering of others because we can’t really grasp what suffering is until it is upon us.
Dr. Rieux called to mind the plague-fires of which Lucretius tells, which the Athenians kindled on the seashore. The dead were brought there after nightfall, but there was not room enough, and the living fought one another with torches for a space where to lay those who had been dear to them; for they had rather engage in bloody conflicts than abandon their dead to the waves. (1.5.6)
People, irrationally, are willing to suffer and cause suffering to honor the dead, who cannot actually receive honor, or anything for that matter. At least, that is the argument put forth in The Plague.
Followed by scowls and protestations, Rieux left the committee-room. Some minutes later, as he was driving down a back street redolent of fried fish and urine, a woman screaming in agony, her groin dripping blood, stretched out her arms toward him. (1.7.35)
This scene is in direct contrast to the prior discussion of what to label the pestilence. While Rieux and his colleagues have debated the terminology of suffering, here is a woman actually suffering physically, words be damned.