Study Guide

The Plague Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Albert Camus

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

The morning noises of the streets sounded louder, gayer than usual. For everyone in our little town this day brought the promise of a new lease of life, now that the shadow of fear under which they had been living for a week had lifted. Rieux, too, was in an optimistic mood when he went down to see the concierge; he had been cheered up by a letter from his wife that had come with the first mail. (1.2.119)

Right from the start of the novel, we see the falsity and uselessness of hope.

His limbs spread out by the ganglia, embedded in the berth as if he were trying to bury himself in it or a voice from the depths of the earth was summoning him below, the unhappy an seemed to be stifling under some unseen pressure. His wife was sobbing.

"Isn’t there any hope left, doctor?"

"He’s dead," Rieux replied. (1.2.125-27)

Exactly. Falsity? Check. Uselessness? Got it.

Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences. (1.5.3)

Implied, of course, is the following thought that pestilences will never be gone and man therefore would never be free. This is clearly the narrator’s point-of-view, but is it that of Camus as well? Not exactly. Camus would argue that through consciousness and acceptance, man can be free even while there are pestilences.

That the regulations now in force were inadequate was lamentably clear. As for the "specially equipped" wards, he knew what they amounted to: two outbuildings from which the other patients had been hastily evacuated, whose windows had been hermetically sealed, and round which a sanitary cordon had been set. The only hope was that the outbreak would die a natural death; it certainly wouldn’t be arrested by the measures the authorities had so far devised. (1.8.75)

Hope is not only futile, but destructive as well. Because people can rely on hoping for the plague to die on its own, they don’t take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of disease.

But when making such remarks, we felt none of the passionate yearning or fierce resentment of the early phase; we merely voiced one of the few clear ideas that lingered in the twilight of our minds. The furious revolt of the first weeks had given place to a vast despondency, not to be taken for resignation, though it was none the less a sort of passive and provisional acquiescence. (3.1.26)

People are starting to lose hope – is this portrayed as a positive evolution or a negative degeneration?

As to what that exile and that longing for reunion meant, Rieux had no idea. But […] he was thinking it has no importance whether such things have or have not a meaning; all we need consider is the answer given to men’s hope.

Henceforth he knew the answer […]. Those who […] had set their hearts solely on […] their love […] for some time, anyhow […] would be happy. […] If there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love.

But for those who had aspired above and beyond the human individual […], there had been no answer. (5.4.13-15)

Again we see that Rieux has learned from the plague. Actually, it looks more like he learned simply in the process of relating his narrative, since this point of view differs from that at the beginning of the novel. While he may have once blindly condemned hope, he now possess a more nuanced understanding of it – hope isn’t inherently destructive, as long as we hope for that which is attainable: human love.