A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
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Algeria is a country in Northern Africa on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and Oran is a major port city. In the 1940s, Algeria was part of the French colonial empire. (This annotation has embedded rich content)
In the beginning of the novel, the narrator focuses mainly on
"Pictures" is another term for movies.
What point of view is this story being told from?
Point of view is influential in the telling of a story. Watch the video below on point of view and cultural perspectives and try to identify the point of view this story is told from. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on these two paragraphs, the narrator seems to be most concerned with
The novel offers a unique narrative perspective. Previously the narrator has directly addressed the reader using first person pronouns. However, here the narrator refers to "the narrator" whose "identity will be made known." Thus, there are two possibilities: there is a second narrator or the narrator refers to himself in the third person. Either way, clearly point of view is important in this novel.
What is most ironic about these details?
What is the best explanation for why the narrator provides specific dates and times?
Using context clues, determine which of the following choices is the best definition for "paltering."
Notice that Rieux's commitment to truth is similar to previous statements made by the narrator: "We must not exaggerate" and "a narrator cannot take account of these differences of outlook. His business is only to say: 'This is what happened,' when he knows that it actually did happen."
To this point, the presence of the dead rats has been considered all of the following except
Notice that in describing the dying rats the narrator is appealing to a number of senses: sight, hearing, touch, and smell.
What might the narrator's initial description of Joseph Grand suggest about this character?
What does the highlighted detail suggest about Rieux's psyche?
Ganglia (the plural of ganglion) are groups of nerve cell located in the nervous system. Here is an image of an inflamed ganglion: (This annotation contains an image)
One wonders if the weather reflects the mood or if the weather is simply commented on because of the mood.
The narrator breaks from the narrative to introduce another "witness," a visitor to Oran named Jean Tarrou. As Tarrou is an outsider, we can assume that he offers a different perspective than the narrator.
Which literary device does the author use in the highlighted sentence?
An abscess is a pus and debris-filled pocket in the skin. During the plague, these are the sites of infection. (This annotation contains an image)
By referring to the wife as a mouse, the father as an owl, and the two children as poodles, what does Tarrou imply?
By sharing Tarrou's observations of Dr. Rieux, the narrator brings together the split narratives.
Latin; a legal term for suicide
Rather than being "queer," what does Grand's observation suggest about Cottard's behavior?
What does the highlighted remark suggest about the inspector?
The highlighted text is an example of a simile. Which of the following sentences below also includes a simile?
This marks the first time that the word "plague" is used in the text.
The narrator states that victims of the plague should die in this manner so that people could
The narrator points out that when numbers get too large, we can't wrap our minds around them. Essentially, they cease to have real meaning. Kind of like this: (This annotation contains a link)
What is ironic in the highlighted passage?
This amount is equates to approximately $12.50 in 2015, a paltry sum.
Why might Castel willingly lie about the plague?
Rieux's figure is not an exaggeration. Watch this short video that illustrates the devastating effects of the plague in the 14th century. (This annotation contains a link)
This detail is an interesting one to end the chapter. Does the woman really reach out to Rieux or does he simply imagine that she does? As he has just come from a meeting where he discussed the death of half the population, the latter seems more likely.
Why do officials distribute information discreetly?
Which of the following best describes Cottard's change since his suicide attempt?
This description appears to be an inside joke. It describes the plot of another famous book published by Camus in 1942 called The Stranger.
This is likely an allusion to another novel with themes similar to The Plague. Franz Kafka's The Trial (published in 1925) tells the story of a man arrested and charged with an unknown crime by an unknown authority.
Foreshadowing is a device used to suggest, hint, indicate, or show what will occur later in a narrative. It often provides hints about what will happen next. As Cottard's question is unusual, this statement is likely an example of foreshadowing.
What is most significant about Rieux's response to Cottard's question?
Cholera is an infection disease whose symptoms share some similarity with those of the plague, though the disease is not nearly as deadly. Authorities have likely spread this rumor as cholera is less threatening.
Quiz: Part One, Chapters 1-8
What important detail regarding point of view is revealed in the opening sentence of Part Two?
How might the highlighted passage exemplify an aspect of existential philosophy?
Camus's The Plague is considered a classic of Existentialist literature. Existentialism is a philosophy that can be difficult to define. Watch this short view for an overview of the concept:
"Exile" is the state of being banished from one's home or country. What is ironic about this "feeling of exile" felt by the narrator and the citizens?
This expression derives from a text that you may be familiar with: Shakespeare's Macbeth. The expression essentially means "gather up your courage," and Lady Macbeth says these words to her husband as they plot Duncan's murder.
The speaker's admission about his own qualifications make him most like which character in the narrative?
Which of the following statements from this paragraph would not be an example of irony?
The misconception that alcohol has curative powers was widespread. Guinness beer even built campaigns boasting of its beer's "power" with ads that seem foolish today: (This annotation contains an image)
What might be a plausible explanation for Cottard's great spirits?
Here is another brief video on existentialism that delves a bit deeper into the topic. Watch the video and then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
How is Rambert's exclamation an existential statement?
Rambert echoes the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, father of existentialism. Kierkegaard wrote that "the crowd is untruth.” In other words, the needs of individual can easily be swallowed up in a large group. Conformity can force its identity on an individual. Rambert is asserting his individuality, and he believes Rieux relieves himself of considering Rambert's interests by claiming public good.
Why is Rieux's mother's observation important?
What does Rieux's observation suggest about his view of pity?
In the final paragraph of this chapter, the narrator clearly has access to the feelings and thoughts of Dr. Rieux. Remember that since this is a first person narrative, this detail suggests an unusual closeness between the narrator and Rieux that will be revealed later.
According to the narrator and Dr. Rieux, what most likely motivates the churchgoers to participate in the Week of Prayer?
This type of sermon is referred to a "fire and brimstone sermon." In these sermons, religious figures would often use violent metaphors of damnation to strike fear into their listeners in hopes of convincing them to repent. A fire and brimstone sermon that students may be familiar with is Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Here is Edwards looking rather stern: (This annotation contains an image)
According to Father Paneloux, what is to blame for the plague?
At this point in the narrative, there is strong evidence that the narrator
Notice how Rieux's perspective is obscured through the haze of alcohol. Many of the observations are qualified with the word "seemed." There continues to be evidence that the narrator may be Rieux himself.
Grand has written one sentence of his book. One sentence! This is one of the several absurd scenes in the book. Most of Camus's writing touched on the theme of absurdism, a philosophy that is closely linked with existentialism. This short video provides a quick overview of the philosophy. (This annotation contains a video)
At the conclusion of this chapter, the citizens of Oran are
What is ironic about Rambert's hope over the form from the Prefect's office?
Which of the following is not an example of irony?
Early twentieth century travel advertisement posters were beautiful art pieces. Here is a poster that would be like those Rambert sees: (This annotation contains an image)
Fearing growing discontent, local officials publish new regulations regarding behavior. What is ironic about the punishment for ignoring these regulations?
Here, the point of view one again switches back to Tarrou's journal. Why might Camus hand off the narrative at this point?
By offering an absurd law about spitting on cats during the plague, Tarrou satirizes the absurdity of some of the regulations and punishments that the government has imposed during the epidemic.
Camus published a famous essay in 1942 called "The Myth of Sisyphus" in which he presents his Absurdist philosophy. Watch this short animation of Sisyphus: (This annotation contains a video)
How is the asthmatic old man similar to Sisyphus?
The fact that people lavish themselves with fine meals and choice wine instead of turning to God suggests what about this society?
Pneumonic plague can be spread through the air and is much more serious than bubonic plague. Visit the CDC's website for more information. (This annotation contains a link)
By answering Rieux's question with a question, Tarrou initiates an existential discussion about God and truth.
Though he says he doesn't believe in God, Rieux also doesn't believe he is that different from Father Paneloux for all of the following reasons except
Much like Sisyphus refusing to quit pushing the rock up the mountain, Rieux believes that we must never submit to death. This philosophy is expressed in Dylan Thomas's famous poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night": (This annotation contains a link)
Remember this exchange. The reason for Tarrou's confident answer is revealed later in Part Four.
How is Tarrou's motivation for fighting the plague similar to Rieux's?
Why does the narrator not want to offer too much praise to the sanitary squads?
Vaccinations against bacteria (in this case, the plague bacterium) are often made using the bacteria itself. A patient is injected with a weakened strain and the immune system is able to build resistance to the disease.
Why does the narrator likely select Grand as the hero of the story?
How have Rambert's plans to leave Oran changed?
A stoolpigeon is a derogatory term for an individual who acts as a decoy or informer, usually in an investigation.
"Having a long tongue" is likely a euphemism for someone who likes to talk. Garcia is worried that because Rambert is a journalist, he could expose his undercover smuggling operation.
What is ironic about Cottard's remarks?
As Rambert is passed from person to person and forced to wait days at a time at each step, which of the following is the most likely conclusion?
Interestingly, Camus seems to have been big fan of football. A "New Yorker" article quotes Camus as saying of the sport, "After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA [junior soccer team].” (This annotation contains a link)
Why is the war memorial an ironic place for Rambert to meet Gonzales?
Earlier in the novel, people were drinking alcohol under the pretense that it would protect them against disease. Now, their motive for drinking is likely to find some temporary relief from the misery and monotony of life. Ironically, instead of providing relief, drinking will only exacerbate their sadness because alcohol is a depressant. The more they drink, the more miserable they are likely to become.
The survivor's story exemplifies Rieux's earlier comments about death: "Do you know that there are some people who refuse to die?" Unlike Tarrou who attributes the man's survival to luck, Rieux credits his will. This sentiment is echoed in a famous line from Ernest Hemingway, another writer influenced by existentialism: "Man is not made for defeat. ...A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Why does the plague suit Cottard?
Popular in the early twentieth century, a phonograph was a device used for playing recorded sounds and music. (This annotation contains an image)
When Rambert says he is interested in "living and dying for what one loves," he is most likely arguing that
The belief that wind carried the disease is actually prescient. Read this short article published in 2009 about the role of wind in spreading disease: (This annotation contains a link)
What is the irony of the "plague medal"?
Burying victims in a large pit was common practice during time of mass causalities. Watch the short video on the BBC website about a "plague pit" that was recently discovered. (This annotation contains a link)
The "rough jobs" of burying the dead are easy to fill for all of the following reasons except
According to the narrator, why is the pain of separation easing?
Camus's metaphor comparing people's psychological state to sleepwalking is apt one. Sleepwalkers can perform all sorts of things without thought or recollection. The people of Oran, like sleepwalkers, move around it a figurative trance-like state. Watch this video for more information about sleepwalking: (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz: Parts Two & Three
Remember that Rieux first saw the rats on April 16, so the plague is six months old at this point.
As a result of the prolonged plague, the people of Oran are now suffering from
Rieux notices that Dr. Castel's work has taken a toll on his appearance and Rieux assumes that he displaces some of the same physical signs of stress. Stress can have a profound physiological effect over time. Before-and-after pictures of U.S. presidents illustrate this effect: (This annotation contains an image)
Why might the people who most need disinfections be the least likely to practice precaution?
The plague has taught everyone what Cottard already knew: although we desire human connection, we cannot trust each other. Cottard once mistrusted everyone because he feared arrest; now people mistrust each other because they fear infection.
After experiencing death for many months now, why does the audience react with such terror to the death of the actor?
Again we see the negative effects of alcohol. It fuels Rambert's fear and sends him screaming wildly into the night. When he realizes that he is not sick, Rambert feels shame.
Why does Rambert ask Tarrou if he speaks sincerely?
Earlier in the novel, Rieux commented that Father Paneloux can speak about Truth because he hadn't seen suffering firsthand. Now, Paneloux appears ready to work alongside the others.
Rieux says that one should never turn away from love yet admits he is doing that very thing. How do his actions make him similar to Sisyphus?
There's something moving about the simplicity of the mother's words, especially given the request is not simple at all. In fact, the mother likely knows that she asks for the impossible, yet she asks anyway.
What do Paneloux's words illustrate about his character?
This is Dr. Rieux's most emphatic and emotional response to death. He expresses not only his anger about losing the boy but also in Father Paneloux's philosophy.
What is the irony in Rieux's final words to Paneloux?
Nostradamus was a French physician and astrologer who claimed the power to know the future. Often in times of disaster, people will turn to prophesies to reveal the future. Nostradamus stills continues to have a following. (This annotation contains an image)
To what does Paneloux attribute the death of the child and others during the plague?
Bishop Belzunce's story bears some similarity to Edgar Allan Poe's frequently anthologized story about the plague, "The Masque of the Red Death." In Poe's tale, Prince Prospero locks himself and a small group of people inside his abbey in an attempt to keep the plague out. (This annotation contains a link)
What shift in the narrative occurs at this point in the novel?
A crucifix is a symbolic representation of Christ on the cross. Christians, especially Catholics like Father Paneloux, will often pray before a crucifix or simply look at it in contemplation of their faith. (This annotation contains an image)
All Souls' Day, held on November 2, is a day of prayer for the deceased. In some countries, it is called The Day of the Dead.
Why do the poor suffer now suffer much more than the rich?
Though the circumstances are quite different, the football field turned isolation camp calls to mind the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A place where fans once cheered for their favorite teams was transformed into a place of harsh isolation after tragedy struck. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following is the best definition of "row" in this context?
A plaster saint is a person considered to be without human fault.
Because of his courtroom experience as a teenager, Tarrou devotes himself to
Tarrou first hints at his belief that he knows the "world inside out" in Part Two of the novel. He says that we all suffer from the plague (figuratively, of course) and that we must watch that we don't pass the infection to others. Whomever infects few others is a good man.
Swimming in the ocean symbolizes all of the following except what for Rieux?
This idiom means to work continuously at something with great effort. Perhaps the most famous usage comes from Aesop's fable "Hercules and the Waggoner": (This annotation contains an image)
M. Othon wishes to return to the quarantine camp for all of the following reasons except
Writing the same sentence again and again for fifty pages speaks to the mental state of Grand. He is clearly suffering. It's kind of like this scene from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining": (This annotation contains a video)
All of the following strange occurrences happen at the end of Part Four except
Perhaps the best way to describe the retreat of the plague is a Pyrrhic victory. A Pyrrhic victory is only achieved with heavy losses on one's own side. In other words, it's not much of a victory at all.
What is the irony of the celebrations in the street?
The narrator questions the loss of objectivity in Tarrou's journal, but the plague has caused other characters (Rieux included) to have lapses in objectivity as well.
What is implied about Tarrou at the conclusion of this chapter?
Though receding, the plague still takes its last victims randomly, another example of Camus's Absurdist philosophy. Tarrou has survived the whole epidemic only to fall ill at the last possible moment. Rieux's mother recognizes the absurdity.
What is ironic about Rieux's remark to Tarrou?
The narrator provides a not-so-subtle foreshadowing of Tarrou's death. Here is an image of a tomb effigy: (This annotation contains an image)
Describing Rieux's tears as "tears of impotence" suggests what about Rieux's state of mind?
The allusion to war causes one to think of the last man to die in battle. Perhaps Rieux had heard the story of Augustin Trébuchon, the last French soldier killed in World War I minutes before the armistice went into effect. (This annotation contains an image)
Rambert has changed in all of the following ways except
Compare Rambert's reunion with his wife to this famous photograph, "V-J Day in Times Square" (1945) by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Consider how the tone of the embraces differ from one another. (This annotation contains an image)
After describing, with some bitterness, the behavior of those people reunited with their loved ones, the narrator qualifies the description by saying that "was what seemed evident to Rieux." These details all but prove that
The narrator finally admits, in the final chapter of the novel, what we had earlier suspected: he is Dr. Rieux. Rieux claims he kepts his identity hidden so as to set an impartial tone. Think about why Rieux was so adamant about objectivity and whether he successfully achieves this objectivity.
Though he doesn't mention him by name, which character does Rieux claim he cannot speak for?
Watching the celebration, Rieux feels that the people of Oran have forgotten the people who died in the plague. This belief is similar to those who think that Americans have forgotten the real meaning of Memorial Day. Watch this short video from NBC News and consider how the sentiments are similar. (This annotation contains a link)
Quiz: Parts Four & Five
Judging from Rieux's closing words, what was his motivation for writing his account of the plague in Oran?