Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 1 Chapter 1 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Albert Camus divided The Plague into five parts. This study guide provides a summary and analysis of each chapter within those parts.

Summary

The "unusual events" of the story, told by an as-yet-unnamed narrator, begin in the port town of Oran, Algeria, in the 1940s, a place known for its ordinariness. An ugly town defined more by what it does not have than what it has, Oran is full of people for whom the activities of life—working, loving, dying—have become matters of habit. Work has become devoid of any meaning other than to make money. Even pleasures, such as gathering with friends or having sex, have become predictable and uninteresting. The act of dying in the town is, as a result, even more lonely and distressing than dying elsewhere, since there is a lack of true caring among the citizens.

The narrator, who tells us he will be revealed "in due course," explains he will tell what happened in Oran as objectively as possible, even though he was a part of the events.

Analysis

Although the narrator does not introduce himself by name, this opening chapter actually reveals a good deal of information about him. He says he'll take on the role of historian: "Naturally, a historian, even an amateur, always has data, personal or at second hand, to guide him. The present narrator has three kinds of data: what he saw himself; the accounts of other eyewitnesses (thanks to the part he played, he was enabled to learn their personal impressions from all those figuring in this chronicle); and, documents that subsequently came into his hands." The objective tone taken here is meant to impress upon the reader the factual nature of the account. Although the events are fictional, the emphasis on the truthfulness of the chronicle suggests the author believes there is a kind of truth contained in the novel. The narrator clearly identifies the three types of knowledge he will rely on for his account: his own experiences, documents (Jean Tarrou's journal), and the stories he hears from others as he goes about his life in Oran during the plague. His parenthetical remark should give careful readers a clue to the narrator's identity: he played a part that allowed him to learn the "personal impressions" of all of the people included in the book.

The setting is the coastal city of Oran, in the 1940s. In 1940, several European nations had declared war on Germany, but the United States did not join the war until 1941. Nazi armies marched into Paris on June 14, 1940, and would occupy the city for the next four years. Ties to the rise of the Nazi party in World War II are important for an allegorical interpretation of the novel.

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