Study Guide

The Plague Part 1, Chapter 5

By Albert Camus

Part 1, Chapter 5

  • The narrator decides to pause for a moment and comment on "this point in the narrative." Weird, yes.
  • He would like to take this opportunity to explain for us Rieux’s reaction to this plague business.
  • Plagues, the narrator says, are like wars; they happen all the time all over the world, but people are always surprised when they do.
  • We think that, because a war (or plague) is stupid, it will be over quickly. But, he reminds us, "stupidity has a knack of getting its way."
  • He adds that we would like to think of it as a bad dream, but the cold reality is we end up dying – and the humanists first, because they haven’t taken precautions.
  • In fact, man will never be free because of this. Even Dr. Rieux, who has admitted aloud that this is the plague, can’t really bring himself to accept it as reality. He merely feels "unease."
  • Rieux, it seems, having served in a war, has been de-sensitized to death. Hearing statistics like "a hundred million dead" doesn’t really mean anything until you can look the dead body in the face.
  • If you really wanted to get the point across, Rieux thinks, you should make the people die outside; and in heaps, you should pile up ten thousand bodies (much like the rats, it would seem).
  • But even then, it would have to be ten thousand people you personally know for it to really matter.
  • Finally, Rieux snaps out of his mental wanderings and decides that he needs to focus on the facts.
  • He recalls the passage from his medical book on the plague: "The pulse becomes fluttering […] and death ensues as the result of the slightest movement." Three out of four people, Rieux recalls, were impatient, made that slight movement, and died as a result.
  • Continuing on the theme of semantics, Rieux ponders the word "plague." He thinks about its history and compares Oran to Marseille and to London at times of outbreak.
  • Really, he says, it’s a matter of doing what needs to be done. In this case, his job.