Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 2 Chapter 14 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 2, Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

The death toll in Oran continues to accelerate to more than 700 per week as summer sets in and the weather turns even hotter. People of the city have taken to sitting inside with shades drawn to avoid the heat, while the town authorities enact more rules, schedule patrols, and shoot cats, thinking cats may be carrying the disease. Tarrou's notebooks inform readers that the old man who spits on cats again has no cats to spit on. Tarrou's journals also note that Mme. Othon, the magistrate's wife, is in quarantine because she had been taking care of a plague patient

who happened to be her mother. Tarrou also gives his unflattering opinion of Father Paneloux's sermon and a flattering opinion of Dr. Rieux's mother.

In addition, Tarrou records some interesting information about Dr. Rieux's asthmatic patient, the old Spaniard. The old man keeps time using a pan full of peas. He moves the peas from the full pan to an empty one, then back again, at a constant, carefully regulated speed. Tarrou is impressed with the man's ability to adhere to this habit.

Tarrou reports that people in Oran are bored, because there is nothing to do in town except think about the plague. And now that they have accepted the fact of the plague, they have begun to live luxuriously, buying expensive wines and seeking pleasure.

Analysis

This chapter begins by mentioning the weather, which has now turned to a scorching summer heat after an "unseasonable" rainfall. As much as people, including readers, would prefer that there were patterns and predictability in the weather, sometimes it is simply "unseasonable." The sky, like the plague, refuses to obey rules or abide by patterns.

Tarrou's journal plays an important role in the narrator's description of how the town is faring as spring turns to summer. Tarrou's observations, the narrator says, are of general trends, such as the fact that the newspapers are announcing deaths by the day, rather than the week now, but also include "such striking or moving incidents of the epidemic as came under his notice." These "striking or moving incidents" include the irrational and superstitious elements of people's behavior, such as the spitting man running out of cats to spit on or a woman opening her window, screaming, and closing it again. These images—individual versus community; large versus small—echo the concerns that Rieux and Rambert argued about, but also serve to give a more complete picture of the effects of plague. The town is still considering Paneloux's sermon, and Tarrou's notes also give his two cents about it. He says that at the beginning and end of a crisis there is a "propensity for rhetoric," but what is worth waiting for is the "in the thick of it" where "one gets hardened to the truth—in other words, to silence." In light of Joseph Grand's obsession with finding the perfect words, this insistence that truth is only revealed in silence is an interesting contrast.

This chapter also introduces Tarrou's interest in defining what a "saint" is. Here, he concludes that the old asthmatic patient is a saint if "saintliness is an aggregate of habits." The definition is a clue that may help us answer the novel's central question. Perhaps the only response to any fate is to continue living as one has always done.

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