Study Guide

The Plague Part 4, Chapter 5

By Albert Camus

Part 4, Chapter 5

  • Time-wise, we’re at All Soul’s Day (November 2). The new fashion is waterproof clothing, which, much like alcohol, is supposedly a defense against the plague.
  • Usually, on All Souls Day, people honor all the souls. This year, not so much. The cemeteries aren’t really a hot spot to visit anymore. Every day is the Day of the Dead; they don’t need this holiday.
  • The plague is kicking butt in the Plague vs. People battle, but Dr. Richard thinks is great news – since it can’t get any worse, it’s sure to get better soon.
  • Dr. Castel’s new serum, while it did exactly jack for M. Othon’s son, does seem to be helping at least a few people.
  • Dr. Richard’s optimism is proven wrong, if not downright tragic, when he himself falls victim to the plague.
  • By this point basically every public place has been converted to a quarantined area or a hospital.
  • Amazingly, Rieux’s teams seem to be dealing with the situation rather well.
  • The good news is, the bubonic plague seems to be going out of style.
  • The bad news is, the pneumonic plague, which is not only more fatal but also more contagious, seems to be taking its place.
  • As if that were not enough, profiteers are taking advantage of the food shortage and driving up prices on everything edible.
  • This means that, as is often the case, the poor suffer far more than the rich. The plague no longer means equality, as it once did.
  • The newspapers maintain optimism despite all evidence that everyone is going to die.
  • Of course, the narrator says, you get the real story when you visit one of the quarantine camps.
  • For just such a story, we’ll turn once again to Tarrou’s journal entries.
  • Tarrou records that he, Rambert, and Gonzales made a visit one Sunday afternoon to a stadium-turned-isolation-camp at the outskirts of town.
  • It’s guarded by four sentry posts; no one can escape. While the "inmates" can hear the goings-on just beyond the high stadium wall, they can’t see the world outside their camp.
  • Gonzales, who used to be a big-deal football (as in soccer) player, has a hard time looking at the stadium in which he used to play.
  • Now, the field is dotted with red tents – everyone has to be inside his tent by sunset.
  • Rambert fills in Tarrou on the conditions: when they first set up the camp, it was noisy all the time. But day-by-day it got quieter and quieter.
  • In his journal entry, Tarrou ponders why this is so. At first, he thinks, people wanted to talk to each other. As time went on, no one wanted to listen to anyone else’s whining; no one had the energy to be sympathetic any longer.
  • He goes on to talk of mistrust, suspicion between the members of the camp.
  • The worst part, he says, is that they have been forgotten by the outside world – and they know it. Even those who are trying to rescue them from the camp are more concerned with the scheming than they are with the actual person whom they are attempting to release.
  • Tarrou concludes that in any calamity, no one is really capable of thinking about anyone else, since doing so would be to think about them all the time (this sounds a lot like Paneloux’s "all-or-nothing" ultimatum about religion, doesn’t it?).
  • Before they leave, the camp manager wants to see them. The manager, it turns out, is none other than M. Othon (the magistrate whose son died over seven long, torturous pages of suffering).
  • He wants to know if his son – Jacques – suffered very much before he died.
  • Tarrou responds that no, the boy did not suffer.
  • Before the men leave, they witness the cold efficiency of the camp as its members are gathered up for dinner.
  • Tarrou remarks as they leave, "Poor Monsieur Othon!" He says he would like to help the man, but how does one help a judge? he asks. (Flip on back to Part II, Chapter Nine, where Tarrou calls M. Othon "Enemy Number One.)