by Albert Camus
The Plague Time Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Stuart Gilbert's translation.
It was undoubtedly a feeling of exile […], that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time […]. In short, we returned to our prison-house, we had nothing left us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had to speedily abandon the idea. (2.1.8)
This is an incredible image. The narrator describes Oran’s state of exile, but does so in terms of time, not in terms of space. After all, the citizens can’t really be in geographical exile – they’re stuck in their homes. Instead, they are temporally exiled from both the past and the future, stuck in a state of the forever-present. The use of the word "exile" suggests that this is a foreign state; clearly, people are used to living anywhere but the present moment. (This is also consistent with the description we received of Oran in the opening chapter.)
Thus, in a middle course between these heights and depths, they drifted through life rather than lived, the prey of aimless days and sterile memories, like wandering shadows that could have acquired substance only by consenting to root themselves in the solid earth of their distress. (2.1.10)
Again, Camus uses geographical terms to describe motion through time.
They caught themselves thinking, "A good thing if I get plague and have done with it!" But really, they were asleep already; this whole period was for them no more than a long night’s slumber. The town was peopled with sleepwalkers, whose trance was broken only on the rare occasions when at night their wounds, to all appearances closed, suddenly reopened. (3.1.29)
This is big-deal Camus stuff. Time is wasted, he says, when people are not aware of themselves and their actions. The metaphor of sleepwalking is the perfect image to get across his point about consciousness. If you’re into this sort of thing, Shmoop Camus's The Stranger, in which the protagonist comes to a similar conclusion.