Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 2 Chapter 15 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 2, Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

The number of dead continues to escalate, and the serum that finally arrived does not seem to be working. Mme. Rieux, Dr. Rieux's mother, tells her son she doesn't fear the plague, because she is old. Jean Tarrou arrives at Dr. Rieux's home where Tarrou criticizes the government response to the plague crisis, and describes his own plan: recruit volunteers to help fight the plague. When Dr. Rieux objects to this idea, because it would put people at risk of contracting the disease, Tarrou asks him if he heard Father Paneloux's sermon. This leads into a discussion about the existence of God and human duty. Dr. Rieux is of the opinion that people should try to relieve human suffering before they proclaim that suffering is good or just, as Father Paneloux did.

Dr. Rieux also tells Tarrou that he does not believe in God, which makes Tarrou curious about why Rieux wants to help people if he doesn't believe in God. Rieux explains that he helps people because he does not believe God will do it. If he believed God would heal people, he would not bother with them. He also explains that his career has allowed him to see people face, and struggle against, death. He thinks people should both accept and struggle against death, and Tarrou agrees with this sentiment. Tarrou again pitches his idea about recruiting volunteers, saying that his code of morals, "comprehension," has prompted him to take action.

Analysis

In Chapter 8 of Part 1, the Prefect tells Dr. Rieux that he will send for and await orders as to how to act in response to the plague. Later, Dr. Rieux fumes scornfully to Dr. Castel, "Orders! When what's needed is imagination." In this chapter, Tarrou has a similar response to the poorly organized government attempts to recruit volunteers to a plague-fighting effort. "What they're short on is imagination," he scoffs. This commonality between the two characters sets the stage for a friendship and partnership between the two men that will grow as the novel progresses. And the idea that human ingenuity can solve problems when a more bureaucratic approach fails is part of Camus' humanism, which is a more optimistic viewpoint than existentialism.

As Dr. Rieux and Tarrou share their ideas about how to combat the plague, Father Paneloux's sermon becomes a point of reference once again. Rieux admits that, like Paneloux, he sees that suffering can bring out the best in people, because it "helps men to rise above themselves." But rather than bowing down to it as an inevitable punishment, like Paneloux, he suggests that the benefit of suffering only comes when people refuse to "give in tamely," but instead, struggle against it.

It is important that Rieux chalks up the difference between himself and Paneloux not to a fundamental conceptual difference—belief or disbelief in God—but to a difference in experience: "[Paneloux] hasn't come in contact with death; that's why he can speak with such assurance of the truth—with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do." Suffering, Rieux claims, has been his teacher.

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