The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

It turns out M. Michel's death is just the first of several similar deaths all over town. The narrator explains that some of the details he is including in his account are based on the somewhat quirky notes of Jean Tarrou, who was introduced briefly in the previous chapter. Tarrou arrived only weeks before and is staying at a hotel in town.

Tarrou includes important events in his notebook, as well as seemingly random and unimportant details. Once such detail is a description of the trombone-playing habits of one of the dead men. Another is an account of an old man who spits on cats until, one day, no cats appeared and so he spat on nothing. When the cats appeared again, he resumed spitting on them. Tarrou's notes include a conversation between himself and his hotel manager, in which the manager is angry that even his expensive hotel has dead rats in it.

Analysis

Tarrou's journal includes both important events relevant to the plague and seemingly random observations of the characters in Oran, forcing readers to judge for themselves what is significant. The implication is that had the citizens done so, the town might have been better prepared to deal with the plague.

The spitting man represents the absurd; his actions have no greater meaning. He simply enjoys spitting on cats. Tarrou seems to find the man delightful, suggesting Tarrou approves of a man who lives life according to his own nature and not by society's ideas about what actions are considered correct. The presence of the spitting man suggests human action, in itself, is as meaningless as a man spitting on cats. This may be true, but it's a dangerous position for a leader to adopt.

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