Study Guide

The Plague Part 5, Chapter 3

By Albert Camus

Part 5, Chapter 3

  • Well, that was intense. While we really could go for some light-hearted musical comedy right now, we’ll have to make do with Dr. Rieux waiting to receive an uplifting telegram from his wife.
  • Then, he believes, he could make a fresh start – one free of abstractions.
  • Rieux comes home to his mother, who informs him that Tarrou is looking a little green around the gills.
  • Upon inspection, it looks as though Tarrou may indeed have the plague. Rieux shoots him up with a cocktail of serums, and the elephant in the room is that Rieux won’t have him sent to an isolation ward, though that is the protocol.
  • No, wait, it was the elephant in the room until Tarrou pointed it out. Nice going.
  • Tarrou insists to Rieux that no matter what, he tell him the truth. He’s going to fight against dying, he says, but if he is going to die, he wants to "make a good end of it."
  • Rieux counters that if Tarrou wants to be a saint, he has to live. That’s the only way to be a saint. (This is ironic, since in Catholicism, you have to die to be canonized.)
  • Interestingly, Tarrou has both strains of the plague at once. (Which is not so pleasant.)
  • As the night goes on and Tarrou’s condition worsens, he fights silently and with stillness, rather with much complaining and thrashing about. Each time he meets the doctor’s gaze, he manages a smile.
  • The weather turns to rain and then to hailstorms; hearing footsteps outside, Rieux concludes that tonight, outdoors, is a "plague-free night." The pestilence is just "launching its last offensive" at Tarrou.
  • Rieux’s mother has been sitting by Tarrou’s bed since his sickness began. The doctor instructs her to go and get some rest, which she does.
  • Early in the morning, Tarrou wakes, seemingly better.
  • Because he promised honesty, Rieux tells him this means nothing; there is always a recession in the morning. Tarrou thanks him for his honesty.
  • The fever shortly returns. The doctor leaves and comes back to find his mother at the bedside and Tarrou staring at her intently.
  • When Mme. Rieux puts her hand on Tarrou’s forehead, he thanks her and again seems to smile.
  • Tarrou’s condition worsens, and Rieux is most bothered by his own inability to help his friend as the man rolls over and dies "with a short, hollow groan as if somewhere within him an essential chord had snapped."
  • After his friend’s death, Rieux feels a "brooding […], elemental peace […]," "the silence of defeat" settling about him. Still, while he isn’t sure if Tarrou found peace, he feels that such a state is forever impossible for him to attain.
  • As the day continues, the doctor and his mother keep "silent vigil" over the body. Mme. Rieux asks her son if he is "not too tired?" and he responds that no, he is not.
  • Rieux realizes at this moment that his mother thinks she loves him but he knows that "to love someone [means] relatively little." It’s the language he’s talking about here; to say "I love you" is inadequate. The solution is to love each other silently.
  • Rieux ponders Tarrou’s comment that he (Tarrou) was "losing the match." If Tarrou has lost, the doctor wonders, what has he himself won?
  • All you can win from living through the plague, he decides, is knowledge and memory. Perhaps Tarrou would consider that a victory.
  • Rieux comprehends the difficulty of such a life – the kind of life Tarrou lived, the bleak kind without hope or illusions.
  • He doesn’t know if that had to do with Tarrou’s striving for saintliness, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter to him at this point.
  • The next morning, Rieux gets news that his wife has died. He tells his mother not to cry, and recognizes this suffering as "nothing new," as "the self-same suffering going on and on."