Study Guide

The Plague Part 1, Chapter 3

By Albert Camus

Part 1, Chapter 3

  • Michel isn't the only person to die, more and more people are suffering from his same illness. Naturally, fear ensues.
  • The narrator finds this a good time to take a pause and talk about Jean Tarrou, whom we met momentarily just a few pages back.
  • Tarrou is rich and doesn’t have to work; he came to town only a few weeks earlier (which also means he has horrible timing), and now lives in a hotel at the center (and therefore rich part) of town.
  • No one knows too much about this guy, other than he’s a smiling man who likes swimming and Spanish dancing.
  • It seems that Tarrou has a notebook in which he is recording all these events. His observations, however, are always understated, as though he’s looking at others "through the wrong end of a telescope."
  • While his notebooks are filled with "seemingly trivial details," the narrator still thinks they’re worth a read.
  • Example: Tarrou recorded a random conversation between two streetcar conductors about a man named Camps and whether or not he died after the rat business.
  • Tarrou, being himself, isn’t as concerned with the man's potential death as he is about the fact that Camps played the trombone, and why would anyone play the trombone if it indeed weakened your chest, as these two men claim it does, and why would you want to etc., etc. Such is the manner of Tarrou and his writing.
  • In his notebook, Tarrou also describes a crazy old guy who dresses like he is in the army and likes to call cats by yelling "Pussy, Pussy," and throw bits of paper over his balcony to lure the cats in and then spit on them.
  • Tarrou wonders how to not waste one’s time, and concludes that the solution is to be aware of it all the time. You can do so with such worthwhile activities as standing in line at the theater and then not buying a ticket. As long as you’re aware.
  • OK, so that was your introduction to Jean Tarrou. Now we’re going to look into his journal entries about the rats:
  • Tarrou reports further on the old spitting man. On the day of this particular entry, there are no cats. It’s very likely the cats ate the dead rats. Uh-oh.
  • Anyway, with no cats to spit on, the old man just spits on nothing. This is probably important.
  • Tarrou’s journal entry is filled with lovely little interruptions such as "Query:" and "Answer:", which we find to be hilarious.
  • The journal describes a particular family that Tarrou has enjoyed watching. The dad looks like an owl, the mom looks like a mouse, and the children look like poodles.
  • The manager of Tarrou’s hotel (we’re still inside his journal entry, by the way) is angry that his fancy-shmancy hotel is now just like everywhere else, what with the rat infestation and all.
  • In his conversation with the manager, Tarrou declares that whether the disease is contagious or not, it’s all the same to him.
  • The manager responds that this must mean Tarrou, like he himself, is a fatalist.
  • Tarrou records that he is not a fatalist and told the man as much. (Conversations like this are important in philosophical literature, so go ahead and dog-ear this page.)
  • The journal entry details that the cats have come back, the old man is happy, and a dozen or so people have died.
  • Lastly, there is an odd description of Dr. Rieux. The narrator thinks it’s a "fairly accurate" account. Hmm. We think there is something a little weird about the narrator needing a secondary description of a character that has already been introduced, but that’s OK.
  • The description basically says that Rieux looks thirty-five, has broad shoulders, dark eyes and hair, and is absent-minded but knowledgeable. It’s actually a bizarrely detached yet incredibly observant account.