Study Guide

The Plague Part 2, Chapter 1

By Albert Camus

Part 2, Chapter 1

  • You’re probably still wondering who this narrator is. When Part II begins, he says, "From now on, it can be said that plague was the concern of all of us."
  • He adds that "once the town gates were shut, everyone of us realized that all, the narrator included, were […] in the same boat." (He goes on to explain that this "same boat" is a boat of common emotions: loneliness, fear. Of course, this metaphorical boat is in for a Titanic-like disaster, but still, the metaphor is an apt one.)
  • A-ha. So we can safely confirm that the narrator is 1) in the town and 2) as weird as we thought he was, since he talks about himself in the third person.
  • The worst part, he continues, is being isolated from loved ones outside the town gates.
  • Though letters aren’t allowed to be sent, the narrator says some people try anyway, but fail to get into words the true meaning of their ordeal (more about words! Are you paying attention?)
  • The friendly authority figures decide that, even though no one can leave the town, those who want to are allowed to come back into Oran.
  • Everyone realizes that coming back would be a pretty stupid idea, so no one does it.
  • Wait, no. Dr. Castel’s wife had left town a few days before the closing of the gates, and now she wants back in. The two are old, and they’ve been married a long time.
  • When they were together, the narrator tells us, they weren’t really that into each other. But now that they’re apart, they can’t bear it, plague or no.
  • Turns out, such emotions are common ground. Everyone loves their girlfriend/mom/dad/brother/cousin/grandfather more once they’re separated.
  • The narrator feels as though those parted from their loved ones have it the worst. They have to suffer twice – once for themselves, and once for what they imagine their loved one is suffering.
  • Everyone becomes inactive and feels exiled (although the narrator describes exile as in time, not in space, which is odd). They might try to play make-believe, but there is always a moment in every day when a person has to face reality (this is big-deal Camus stuff, so this isn’t just random rambling).
  • They quickly learn to stop guessing how much longer this will all last, since a game of "Six months! No, eight months!" is like, the most depressing thing ever.
  • But they also can’t give up and stop thinking about it. So the solution is a middle road between hope and despair, where (and this is super-important) "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 [rooting] themselves in the solid earth of their distress."
  • What the narrator’s saying is, people become shadows when they can’t accept reality as it is.
  • Even memory serves no purpose, other than to make everyone depressed. (It works the same way for prisoners, he says, though we assume he’s gotten this information second hand.)
  • Finally, there are the parted lovers. The narrator spends some time with this. (It’s also possible the narrator is confusing the reality in Oran with his own personal reality, thus losing the objectivity he so desperately sought.)
  • But about those lovers: they feel remorse. Each doesn’t know what the other is doing, and feel regret over having not taken more time for the other in the past.
  • The pestilence, he says, has a trick: it incites us all to "create our own suffering" and thus distracts us from the issue at hand. Interesting.
  • Everyone becomes hyper-conscious of the weather. Sun = good; rain = bad. This makes for some rather sudden mood swings (especially on partly cloudy days).
  • Misery loves company, but sadly, everyone has to suffer alone; trying to commiserate is usually a bad idea, since no other person can really understand your specific and unique grievance.
  • Again, the narrator tells us this is an inherent problem with language. (He also mentioned that telegrams are inadequate because of the stock-phrases one has to use. Starting to see a pattern, are we?)
  • All in all, the lovers are actually the lucky ones; they’re so focused on missing each other, "their despair save[s] them from panic." Consumed with love, they have no time for anything else.