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Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 2 Chapter 17 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 2, Chapter 17 | Summary



Rambert decides he will have to pursue illegal means to escape Oran. Cottard hears Rambert share this sentiment with Dr. Rieux and later approaches Rambert. Cottard says he knows people who can help Rambert escape. After all, Cottard is now in the smuggling business, so he knows plenty of folks who do that sort of business. Cottard introduces Rambert to Garcia, a smuggler, and Garcia recommends another man, Raoul. A meeting is arranged for a few days later. At the meeting, another meeting is set up with Gonzales. When Gonzales and Rambert meet again, Gonzales introduces Rambert to two more men, Marcel and Louis. Another meeting is planned. Rambert keeps trying to close the deal with one of the smugglers and make his escape, but cannot seem to make it happen.

Tarrou attempts to recruit Cottard as a volunteer, and Cottard says he is doing such good business as a smuggler, he has plenty to do. Rieux mentions that smuggling might get Cottard in trouble with the law, and Cottard has a panic attack. He reveals that he has feared arrest for years, and in fact, this is why he had attempted suicide.

Rambert and Rieux have a disagreement about the reason people should help fight the plague—for the idea of heroism, for love, or for plain duty? Initially Rambert had refused to join the volunteers, but the morning after this conversation, he arrives ready to work.


Rambert's fruitless attempts to arrange an escape—the endless meetings that he must arrange as he tries to leave the town—show the futility of trying to combat the effects of the plague. Just as Dr. Rieux continues to fight the plague, and Grand continues to try to improve his sentence, Rambert continues to pursue a goal that cannot be gained. These are all struggles that seem small in the face of the indifference of plague, war, and weather.

As much as struggling to attain the impossible may seem a heroic goal, however, Rambert says he doesn't buy the idea of being a hero. He does what he does for love, not for heroism. Heroism, he suggests, is an idea. Again Dr. Rieux takes issue with this "abstraction" argument. People are not abstractions, or ideas. Rambert counters by saying that when people lose the ability to love, they lose their meaning.

As Part 2 closes, Camus has presented readers with several responses to the plague. One is trying to make sense of the nonsensical, like Father Paneloux. One is habit—seeing the same movie over and over, for example. One is inaction—closing the windows, pulling the shades, and hiding inside. Another is duty—taking necessary action, doing one's job. One is imagination—like Tarrou's "sanitary squads." Readers should be careful not to assess these by their effectiveness; they are all equally ineffective. Instead, readers should look carefully at the qualities of the people making the choices, particularly the way they interact with others, for clues about the rightness of their responses.

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