The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Plague Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Dec. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, December 2). The Plague Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "The Plague Study Guide." December 2, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Plague Study Guide," December 2, 2016, accessed September 24, 2023,

The Plague | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why is the exact nature of Cottard's past crime not revealed in The Plague?

Camus may have simply wanted readers to infer the nature of his crime, since he so easily becomes allied with smugglers and is quick to take advantage of the quarantine situation and people's superstitions to make a quick profit. Another possibility is that Camus wanted Cottard to be more than just a character and to stand as a representative for a particular kind of person or a certain kind of response to the plague. For example, Cottard could symbolically represent all those who find solidarity and community because everyone is now part of a shared misery—a "misery loves company" type. A third possibility is that the specifics of the past crime are less important than Cottard's present actions, as explained in the story. Focusing on the past too much would suggest that there is meaning and pattern to people's lives, an idea that is in contradiction to the absurdist leanings of Camus.

How does Camus use The Plague to critique the church's typical responses to "the problem of evil"?

Father Paneloux, the only clergyman to have a large part in the novel, acts as the spokesperson for typical Church responses to the "problem of evil," that is, the problem of a good or loving God allowing great suffering and evil to exist in the world. Although various theologians have various explanations for this, there is no doubt that it is a fundamentally thorny issue. Father Paneloux's two sermons show two typical responses to this problem. First he suggests that the suffering is deserved, because the people of Oran had turned away from God. The plague then becomes an instrument of God's chastisement or discipline. His second sermon suggests that people of faith must accept that since God is good and loving, the plague (all evidence to the contrary) must be somehow part of an overall plan for the good of humanity. The fact that the first sermon's point is undermined by the death of a child (Jacques Othon) leads to the more extreme position taken in the second. Camus suggests that neither answer is adequate to explain the extent of the suffering by having Paneloux die of doubt.

How is the physical setting of Oran important in The Plague?

Oran, Algiers, in the 1940s was a French-controlled port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Port cities are both diverse places, due to the ships of trade goods coming and going, and somewhat affluent places due to commerce and entertainment. French residents live there, as do sailors, and those native to the area. Due to its ethnic, social, and economic diversity, it provides a good setting for a story about humanity in general. Its proximity to the sea allows Camus to include the ocean as a symbol of benevolent chaos or indifference as a contrast to his use of the plague to show the cruelty of the universe's indifference.

Why does Dr. Bernard Rieux say the plague could return for the "bane and enlightening of men" in Part 5, Chapter 30 of The Plague?

The novel ends as Dr. Bernard Rieux witnesses the joyful celebrations of those who, having survived the plague, wish to return to normal life. He, along with others who lost friends and family, cannot take part in the celebrations. In the midst of this tension, he says that the plague will likely return, as plagues do. However, he doesn't suggest that this will necessarily be an entirely bad thing. He says it will be a "bane," that is, something that ruins. But he also says it can bring enlightenment. Placing a positive spin on the plague feels a little Paneloux-esque, but Rieux has noted already that plague can bring about greater knowledge or comprehension; he says that we can "learn in time of pestilence" the lesson "that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." Perhaps it is this learning that is the enlightenment referred to in the final sentence of the book.

Why in The Plague does Dr. Bernard Rieux refuse to make an exception when Rambert asks him for a doctor's note, but he makes this exception for Tarrou?

When Raymond Rambert asks Dr. Bernard Rieux in Part 5, Chapter 28 to write a note saying he is free of plague and can be allowed to leave the city, Dr. Rieux refuses. He will not make an exception to the rule for Rambert. However, when Jean Tarrou comes down with the plague, Rieux makes an exception for him. Tarrou points out that Rieux is breaking his own rule and habit; "Well, it's the first time I've known you to do the injection without ordering the patient off to the isolation ward." This shows that, at least when it comes to Tarrou, Rieux loses his ability to think of plague and plague patients as an "abstraction." His friend makes it a physical reality, and he makes the exception.

How do the rats in The Plague shed light on the mindset of Oran's people?

The appearance and reappearance of the rats help to develop the idea that the people of Oran do not want to face the reality of the plague, and more generally, that people prefer to avoid facing their own mortality. The fact that the rats come from wherever they are hiding—in dark places, underground—suggests that plague is always hiding, biding its time, until it can come out into the daylight. The mindset of denial first manifests in the fact that before they showed themselves in the streets, they lived, unseen, in the town. As they become more numerous above ground, and their deaths more disgusting, the mindset of the people is still one of denial. They think that perhaps the rats are a joke or that they are trying to find food. At the end, the reappearance of the rats does signal the decline of the plague. However, they soon go back to their lives underground, presumably to reappear in the future. The people are content to consider the matter closed since the rats are out of sight once again.

In The Plague, how does Dr. Bernard Rieux's comment, "I've no use for statements in which something is kept back," foreshadow his friendship and final moments with Jean Tarrou?

In Part 1, Chapter 2, the statement "I've no use for statements in which something is kept back" is the doctor's reply to Rambert's request for a statement about the current "conditions." Rieux does not want to give a statement if Rambert has no allegiance to the whole truth or has a greater allegiance to something other than the whole truth. This preference for the whole truth makes his friendship with Jean Tarrou seem inevitable, since the two unburden themselves to each other as the plague progresses. Their honest conversations about God, duty, plague, death, and right action are an important part of the novel's characterization and theme development. Their friendship's basis of truth is tested when Tarrou has the plague, because at first Rieux is reluctant to admit it is plague in front of Tarrou. Yet Tarrou demands truth in Part 5, Chapter 28, in keeping with the terms of their friendship; "You must tell me the whole truth. I count on that."

How does death shape both the plot of The Plague and the perspectives of its characters?

Clearly, the entire plot of The Plague revolves around the plague, an agent of death, and the consequences of having the plague run rampant in a town. The action of the main characters is driven by the fact that there is plague—they are trying to fight it, trying to escape it, or using it as an avenue to greater profit. Furthermore, the idea of death drives many conversations. Characters discuss time, the existence of God, and the human duty to fight death. However, some characters are even more specifically concerned with death. Two in particular are Jean Tarrou and the asthmatic man. Jean Tarrou's whole personality and philosophical viewpoint is shaped by his abhorrence of the idea that he is part of a system that results in state-sanctioned murder. The asthmatic man's tireless moving of peas from pan to pan is caused by his belief that "the first half of a man's life is an upgrade; the second goes downhill."

Why are there few female characters in Camus's The Plague?

A few female characters do appear in the novel—most notably, Dr. Bernard Rieux's mother, Mme. Rieux. However, all of the main characters are men, and several are separated from the women they love, so that the main function of women in the novel is to be absent. This absence does provide the "parted lovers" idea to be used to develop the theme of Isolation and to show character contrasts. It also suggests that, at the time when death prevails in the town, the women—who are able to bring life into the world—are not present. It is also possible that Camus, a man who had a tumultuous relationship with the women in his own life, simply was not inclined to include well-rounded female characters in his novel.

In The Plague, what does Tarrou's use of owl imagery reveal about his perceptions of people?

In Part 1, Chapter 3, Tarrou observes a family that later is revealed to be the Othons. In his journal he says that the father looked like a "well-brought-up owl." Later in Part 4, Chapter 24, he uses owl imagery to describe the defendant in the case his father was prosecuting. He says the man looked like a "yellow owl scared blind by too much light," and continues to refer to him as a "poor blind owl" and a "miserable owl." The interesting thing here is that Tarrou has no sympathy for M. Othon, who he sees as a perpetrator of evil because he is a judge. But Tarrou has enormous sympathy for the defendant. The two are aggressor and victim in Tarrou's view. That he links them not just in his own mind but also in the imagery he chooses to describe them with underscores this connection.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Plague? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!