Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 2 Chapter 16 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 2, Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

Tarrou manages to get several people to volunteer in the fight against the plague. The narrator has some opinion about what motivated these people to volunteer and decides that it was simply the logical thing to do. Dr. Castel is busy working on a new serum—one that takes into account the new strain of plague bacteria they have in Oran.

Grand, Rieux, and Tarrou often get together to talk about Grand's book, and in one of their discussions Grand reveals that he has made some progress: changing "elegant" to "slim" in his sentence. Grand has also been having some trouble at his job, since he is spending so much thought and time on the book and on the volunteering.

Dr. Rieux then considers the way that the radio reports of what is going on in town fail to reflect the reality of the situation. Words just cannot express what is happening. And those who are outside the town—who are not experiencing the suffering firsthand—cannot understand it.

Analysis

The narrator begins this chapter by giving his opinion of what makes an action morally right or wrong. He doesn't agree with praising the good actions of the volunteers, because he believes that makes these good people seem like the exception rather than the rule, and, in his view, people are more good than bad. It is ignorance that makes actions helpful or harmful. He also claims that fighting the plague was not about doing what was "right" but about saving the "the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation."

Joseph Grand is held up as a heroic figure, because he "was the true embodiment of the quiet courage that inspired the sanitary groups." He immediately says "yes" to volunteering to fight the plague, with a matter-of-fact attitude: "Plague is here and we've got to make a stand, that's obvious." Grand embodies the "insignificant and obscure hero who had to his credit only a little goodness of heart and a seemingly absurd ideal." He does his duty without complaint, yet struggles to achieve the impossible: the perfect sentence. The heroes, according to Camus, are those who continually struggle against plague and for an impossible goal. The heroes are thus contrasted with the "saint," who marks time with his peas. Now, the reader has two answers to the novel's question, in direct contradiction with one another: saints blithely accept their fate; heroes struggle against it.

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