Study Guide

The Plague Part 5, Chapter 2

By Albert Camus

Part 5, Chapter 2

  • Of course, every party has a party pooper, and in this case, that pooper is Cottard.
  • The whole thing is recorded in Tarrou’s journal, but the narrator remarks that the entries regarding this time period are difficult to make out, not entirely coherent.
  • They also lose objectivity (which we know is a big deal to the narrator), especially in regards to the cat-spitting man, for whom Tarrou clearly has an affinity.
  • Speaking of the old man, Tarrou comments on how odd it is that, though the cats have returned, the man hasn’t appeared at his window. He’s either dead or "vexed," obviously.
  • The big question for Tarrou is whether or not the old man was a saint.
  • What!? The old cat-spitting man a saint!? Surely you’re joking.
  • He’s not joking. The conclusion is that may be we can only "reach approximations of sainthood," and should therefore make do with "mild, benevolent diabolism."
  • The journals reveal that Grand (who miraculously recovered, remember?) has gone back to work.
  • Tarrou also comments on Rieux’s mother: her simplicity of language, the way she sits at the window with her hands folded, her gentle nature and kindness.
  • Most of all, though, she reminds Tarrou of his own mother, who died eight years ago. The thing is, his mother was so quiet to begin with, her death didn’t seem to be so momentous an occurrence.
  • Now we’re back to Cottard (the narrator seems to be demonstrating to us the erratic nature of Tarrou’s journal entries by presenting them in, well, their erratic manner).
  • Cottard’s been visiting Dr. Rieux, mostly to bug him about whether the plague is really going away or not. Rieux can’t really give him a straight answer.
  • It’s painfully obvious that Cottard would prefer the plague stick around. As soon as the gates open, he fears, it’s curtains for him (he’s a criminal of sorts, remember?).
  • He’s also stopped brown-nosing everyone and their mother. In fact, he rarely leaves his home.
  • So it must have been on one of his rare forays into the outside world when he ran into Tarrou, on January 25, and insisted that the man come back with him to his house.
  • Cottard asks Tarrou what it will mean for the plague to be over and for everything to "return to normal."
  • Tarrou replies with a smile that there will be "new films at the picture houses."
  • He adds that, while people would like to think they could forget about this whole unfortunate incident, it’s likely that "the plague [will] leave traces […] in people’s hearts.
  • Cottard doesn’t care, and he especially doesn’t care about people’s hearts (and probably people in general). What he really wants to know is how the system (police, authorities, public services) will be organized after the plague is over.
  • He is particularly excited by Tarrou’s suggestion that it will mean "a new life for all of us."
  • At that very moment, two government-looking men emerge from a dark corner and ask Cottard if his name is…Cottard.
  • Playing it super-cool, Cottard squeals and promptly runs in the other direction.
  • Tarrou is all "Whatever," but records in his diary that he’s "very tired" that night.
  • The narrator informs us that this is the end of Tarrou’s diary, along with a comment that he has much to do but is ready to do it. However, the man noted in "a sort of postscript" that there is always "a certain hour of the day" when "a man’s courage is at its lowest." This hour is the only thing he fears.