Study Guide

The Plague Part 2, Chapter 8

By Albert Camus

Part 2, Chapter 8

  • Tarrou builds up a team of volunteer sanitary workers.
  • The narrator then does a bit of exposition. He doesn’t want to ascribe too much importance to these selfless volunteers, since that would suggest good actions are a huge deal in an otherwise bleak and selfish world.
  • On the contrary, he says, evil in the world comes from ignorance; moral actions can be bad if they are not aware and conscious.
  • Ignorance = vice, he says, and the worst kind of vice is ignorance that thinks it knows everything.
  • He then moves on to address the question of why the men volunteered. Answer: it was the only thing to do. It wasn’t admirable, but simply logical.
  • Dr. Castel, meanwhile, is still working on making a new (and actually effective) serum based on the current strain of bacteria (whereas the Paris serum is based on pervious outbreaks).
  • The sanitary work, however, is a little less glamorous. The volunteer workers are disinfecting houses, driving around dead people, and evacuating sick people from their residences.
  • And who better to be the secretary than that lover of words, Grand, "the true embodiment of […] quiet courage."
  • It soon becomes habit for Grand, Rieux, and Tarrou to get together and chat about Grand’s literary work (er, make that his sentence).
  • Progress! He’s changed "elegant" to "slim" to describe the horseback-riding lady.
  • They continue to debate various nouns, adjectives, etc. Interestingly, Rieux and Tarrou doubt their own memories of the appearance of Bois de Boulogne when Grand insists that it is "flowery"-looking.
  • It seems, however, that all this multi-tasking is taking a toll on Grand’s real day job. He gets a talking to by his boss for being "absent-minded." Still, he continues with his volunteer work and with his writing.
  • The narrator decides that, if we (the readers) need to have a "hero" for the story, it should be Grand, who has a "goodness of heart" and an "absurd ideal."
  • Listening to radio and news reports of the men’s efforts against the plague, Rieux realizes that language doesn’t really contain words to express what is really happening. Much as is the case with Grand’s writing, language is often inaccurate and always inadequate.
  • Rieux comes back to his earlier statements that, when you aren’t directly participating in suffering, you can’t really understand its depth. So is the case with the rest of the world who tries to express sympathy for Oran, but are "too remote" to "love or die together" with the people of Oran – which is the "only way" to be with someone emotionally.