Study Guide

The Plague Part 5, Chapter 5

By Albert Camus

Part 5, Chapter 5

  • "This chronicle is drawing to an end, and this seems to be the moment for Dr. Bernard Rieux to confess that he is the narrator."
  • That’s a nice start to the last chapter of the novel. Now we can cross off "Who the [expletive] is this narrator?" from our list of Questions We Hope Get Answered Soon.
  • Still, narrator Rieux would like to point out that, having heard accounts from everyone in town, he is more than qualified to give an objective perspective.
  • In fact, throughout his medical adventures, he participated in everyone’s "anxieties" and "predicaments."
  • In fact, the notion of adding personal accounts is irrelevant anyway, since suffering is shared by all. There isn’t really such thing as personal or unique suffering.
  • Still, despite his otherwise omniscience, there is one man of whom Dr. Rieux is ignorant to speak.
  • Who is this man, you say? Add it to the aforementioned list of Questions. The hint is that Tarrou once said of this man that he (Tarrou) pardoned him, since his only crime was approving of the plague.
  • (Seriously, there aren’t too many loose ends left; you know who this is.)
  • Heading to COTTARD’s neighborhood, Rieux is stopped by the police. They can’t let him through since there’s a CRAZY MAN with a gun SHOOTING EVERYBODY.
  • Just then Grand comes bumbling along; he, too, has been stopped by the police, and informed that the shots were in fact coming from his building, where we all know his neighbor COTTARD lives.
  • They see some bullet-related debris flying out of COTTARD’s window.
  • To distract us all, a dog shows up, the first one Rieux has seen in months.
  • The dog gets shot by whomever is standing in Cottard’s window.
  • The dog dies.
  • The police officers who are still trying to apprehend the crazy person shoot into Cottard’s window with machine guns, blasting away at the shutters.
  • Grand, ever-perceptive, finally sees the crazy man apprehended and exclaims with shock, "It’s Cottard!"
  • With Cottard apprehended and the hullabaloo over, Grand heads back home. He reveals to Rieux that he’s finally written to Jeanne, that he’s much happier, and that his writing is going much better now that he’s cut out all the adjectives from his first phrase.
  • The doctor thinks painfully of Cottard as he walks to the house of his old asthmatic patient, who is as usual transposing peas from one pan to another.
  • The old Spaniard inquires after Tarrou and, hearing of the man’s death, says that Tarrou was a guy who "knew what he wanted." He always spoke to say something, and never just "talked for talking’s sake."
  • The old man continues: he’s baffled at the term "plague," and at everyone’s self-congratulation over identifying it as such. What does "plague" mean anyway, he asks, besides "just life, no more than that."
  • The Spaniard insists that he knows how to live, so the doctor shouldn’t worry about him.
  • But he does find it amusing that they’re going to honor the dead with a plaque or something; he can just see them giving speeches and then going off to "have a good snack."
  • Rieux heads out to the terrace, where he and Tarrou earlier felt so isolated from the plague.
  • While a balcony is distant enough to stave off disease, it is not, however, far enough away from the "clamor" of celebration.
  • Seeing the festive fireworks, Rieux concludes that everyone he loved and lost – Tarrou, his wife, Cottard, just to name a few – has been forgotten.
  • This is the moment that he was inspired to write this very account of the plague: so that a memorial might stand to injustice and outrage; so that we may reflect on what we’ve learned from the plague; so that we may realize that "there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
  • He adds that his tale is not one of "final victory." Instead, it is the story of "what had to be done." It is the story of men who, "unable to be saints," still refuse to "bow down pestilences," still "strive their utmost to be healers."
  • So Rieux continues to stand about on the balcony, listening to the singing below, thinking that, while joy is fun and all, it’s always vulnerable to things like, well, random and senseless outbursts of plague.
  • He ends on the note that the plague will probably come again, that man could have learned that from books instead of from living through the terror they just did.
  • Interestingly, he remarks that, when the plague does come again, it will come for purposes of distress but also for enlightenment. It will gather up its rats, he says, and "send them forth to die in a happy city."