Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 1 Chapter 8 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 1, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Town leaders post fliers that inform the public about the illness and what they are doing about it (measures such as killing the rats, who are mostly dead already), but they post them in out-of-the-way places to avoid public panic. A conversation between Grand and Dr. Rieux reveals 10 more people have died. The conversation turns to Cottard, whose business is reportedly in wine sales. Cottard has been awfully friendly (and a great tipper) since his suicide attempt. He's been acting odd in other ways, as well.

Later Dr. Rieux and Dr. Castel meet to talk about progress. Rieux tells Castel the serum has not arrived, and even if it does, it might not work. When Castel leaves, Rieux recognizes the odd feeling he has been having is actually fear. Dr. Rieux visits Cottard later, who seems very concerned about people getting arrested. He wonders if the police could arrest a man who is in the plague hospital ward.

Dr. Rieux is frustrated that people talk a lot about preventing the spread of the plague, yet no one is actually doing anything. He tells the Prefect this, and the Prefect agrees to implement Rieux's recommendations: reporting new cases, quarantining those infected, and following proper burial procedures. These measures seem to work at first, and the numbers of dead decline. However, they soon rise again. The authorities finally agree to "proclaim a state of plague" and quarantine the town.

Analysis

It is hard to imagine anything that illustrates the total dysfunction of the government response better than the posting of flyers "discretely," warning people of plague in places where people are unlikely to see them.

Cottard's odd behavior is revealed in a conversation between Dr. Rieux and Joseph Grand. Grand says Cottard has been more "amiable" than before, and when Rieux asks him "wasn't he amiable before?" Grand is at a loss for words. He does not think "unamiable" is quite the right word to describe what Cottard was before, but he cannot figure out a good word. This is typical behavior for Grand, whose inability to find the right words is the one flaw that has "plagued" him throughout his life. Grand is finally able to express that Cottard used to be aloof and mistrusting of everyone he met, but now he is being friendly toward everyone. Grand suggests Cottard is "a man with something pretty serious on his conscience."

At the end of the chapter, the narrator again describes the weather—this time noting spring has come, a "spring was like any other." In fact, everything seems to go on as usual, outside of the plague. People sell flowers, the spitting man spits on cats, Grand writes, the asthmatic man transfers his peas from one pan to the other, and so on, just as usual. But then, something happens to change all that, bringing the normal activities to a screeching halt: a state of plague is declared, and the town is quarantined. Camus, who employs contrasting images to great effect throughout the novel, here gives another: the image of life as usual with the image of Dr. Rieux reading the fateful telegram: "Proclaim a state of plague stop close the town."

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