Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 1 Chapter 4 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Rieux calls his colleague, Dr. Richard, and they discuss the sickness. Dr. Rieux wants to quarantine patients with the concerning symptoms, but Dr. Richard notes only the Prefect of the town has that power. The weather turns hot and humid, and the residents of the town feel feverish and ill.

Dr. Rieux drives to visit Joseph Grand and Cottard to wrap up the loose ends of the suicide attempt. He learns from Joseph Grand the red chalk Cottard had used to write his suicide "note" had actually been lent to him by Grand, who had bought it to help him improve his Latin. Rieux, accompanied by a policeman, visits Cottard to discuss the suicide attempt. Cottard is extremely reluctant to talk to the police officer, and he can't seem to give a good answer as to why he wished to kill himself. But he assures them he will not try it a second time.

Later Dr. Rieux talks with his colleagues Dr. Richard and Dr. Castel; they agree the illness killing people is the bubonic plague. Although they acknowledge many people believe the plague has disappeared from Europe, Dr. Rieux suggests it never really disappears.

Analysis

This chapter shows one way that the weather in Oran relates to the events in town: it mirrors them. The weather is hot, and the people are feverish, undermining other evidence in the novel that life is absurd and has no meaning.

The characters of Joseph Grand and Cottard are introduced in more depth through the event of Cottard's suicide attempt. Grand has a hard time coming up with just the right words to explain his impression of Cottard. These are clues that will later become important as it is revealed Grand is trying to write a letter to his wife and a novel (and he is struggling with both). Throughout the novel, Grand's struggle to express himself alludes to the struggle all humans have to find language that will bridge the gap between themselves and others. Cottard, on the other hand, cares little for language; in fact he prefers not to express himself, especially to police officers. This inability to communicate is one reason he tries to end his life.

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