Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 2 Chapter 9 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 2, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Under quarantine, the citizens of Oran are lonely and afraid. They suddenly begin to think of all the loved ones who live far away, and miss them, even if they have not thought about them in years. The town authorities decide to allow people to enter but not to exit the town, but the only person who wants to do this is Dr. Castel's wife, who has only been gone a few days. Those who cannot be with their loved ones suffer even more because they worry about how much their loved ones miss them, too. They cannot bear to face their situation, but they cannot completely deny it either. So they live a halfway existence that is a shadow of reality. Although the people share a common source of suffering and fear, each person's particular experience is unique, so they cannot seem to find comfort in shared suffering.

The narrator explains parted lovers have it especially bad, but this tends to work to their advantage, since they are so busy missing each other, they do not have time to panic.

Analysis

Part 2 opens with "From now on, it can be said that plague was the concern of all of us." The sentence both reminds readers the narrator is one of the residents of the town and pulls readers into the action, making "the plague" a universal state of suffering.

The nature of suffering is developed in this chapter, as the narrator describes the way it gives everyone something in common ("the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike") as well as separates them from one another (they each "had to bear the load of his troubles alone"). The ebb and flow of the town's sense of togetherness as a result of the plague—the way it binds people together while also parting them, sometimes forever—is a constant tension in the novel as it is in Camus's personal philosophy.

The narrator also reminds readers of the indifference of the universe and the human tendency to try to make sense of its absurdity as he describes how, just days before, people said good-bye to their loved ones, thinking they would see them again in just a short time. They all were, "duped by our blind human faith in the near future." The importance of confronting reality, including the reality of death, the absurdity of life, and so on, is emphasized again as the narrator remarks, "Always a moment came when we had to face the fact that no trains were coming in. And then we realized that the separation was destined to continue, we had no choice but to come to terms with the days ahead."

Grand's problem of being unable to find the right words is now shared by everyone in town, as letters in and out of the town are suspended, and only telegrams of 10 or fewer words are allowed, such as, "Am well. Always thinking of you. Love." The people are reduced to using "stock phrases" to describe their situation and feelings.

The weather is again used as an example of how people try to find meaning where there is none, as the people of Oran attach too much significance to the random weather patterns: "A burst of sunshine was enough to make them seem delighted with the world, while rainy days gave a dark cast to their faces and their mood."

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