Study Guide

The Plague Part 1, Chapter 4

By Albert Camus

Part 1, Chapter 4

  • Rieux calls up his colleague Dr. Richard again, who reports that his sick patients seem to get momentarily better (that’s what "convalescence" means, if you’re actually reading your book) right before they die. Tricky.
  • Alarmed, Rieux suggests they quarantine the sick, but Richard says that isn’t up to him – it’s up to the Prefect.
  • Meanwhile, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. There are torrential downpours followed by hot, muggy heat. The sea appears different and hurts to look at.
  • As usual, everyone feels terrible except for Rieux’s old Spaniard patient. He thinks this is great weather for his asthma.
  • Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s an impending plague, but the whole town seems to be running a temperature.
  • Rieux drives to Faidherbe to answer questions about Cottard’s attempted suicide. There, Grand informs him that the morning after the hanging business, Cottard still had pains in his head (and, presumably, a killer crick in the neck).
  • Grand doesn’t totally understand the odd bird that is Cottard. He reveals that the red chalk actually came from him (Grand), as he had purchased it to brush up on his Latin, which will help him better understand French. Cottard had asked to borrow the chalk.
  • The inspector finally shows up, and Grand is obviously anxious about using the right words to express what he means (which, incidentally, is one of the reasons he wanted to learn Latin).
  • He reports that he gave Cottard a match yesterday, which we think sounds like a bad thing to give to a suicidal man.
  • Grand adds that Cottard was always eager to chat, but that he (Grand) was too busy with his own "private work" to take five minutes and ease the solitude of his neighbor.
  • Enough with all this chit-chat. The men go to visit Cottard.
  • On entering the man’s bedroom, Rieux concludes that Grand’s description of Cottard having some sort of "secret grief" does indeed seem accurate. Cottard really doesn’t want to see the policeman.
  • Tough noogies. The inspector calls Cottard annoying to his face and can’t get much out of the man as to why he tried to kill himself. But Cottard does assure everyone that he doesn’t intend on doing it again.
  • With that visit over, Rieux is free to again ruminate on the weather and visit his patients who have swollen ganglia. (Ganglia are basically just nerve tissue; if you have swollen ganglia, you might have a big bump somewhere on your body, as the concierge did at the base of his neck.)
  • So swollen, in fact, that they keep bursting open. Grosser still.
  • Doctors Rieux, Richard, and Castel finally get together and compare notes on their patients. Turns out, there are a lot more dead people than anyone had thought.
  • In fact, Dr. Rieux decides to finally call a horse a horse. He knows what this is. In his brilliant, educated, knowledgeable glory, he comes to the staggering and awesome conclusion that this…is….the plague.
  • The other doctors concur that the public response will be that the plague has "vanished" from Europe.
  • (And yet another Historical Context Lesson: "The plague" plagued Europe from the 1300s to the 1700s. Indeed, the plague was carried by rats and involved large, pus-infused, swellings. In other words, Rieux sounds very, very correct.)
  • In response to Dr. Castel’s repeat of the popular belief that plague has "vanished," Rieux says he doesn’t really know what that word means.
  • There’s a hint of the plague’s recurring "in Paris, twenty years ago," which means, actually, no one really knows what "vanish" means.