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Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 3 Chapter 18 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 3, Chapter 18 | Summary



It is the height of summer, the weather is still hot, and the plague continues in Oran. The people of the town are like prisoners, and though they really have a "collective destiny," some maintain their own personal illusion of free choice. The plague has moved from the outer areas of Oran to its center, prisoners in the town jail (and their guards) are dying, and martial law is declared. Attempts to escape the gates escalate. Criminal activity also escalates, including arson and looting. The government tries to impose law and order by instituting a curfew.

Funerals become less ceremonial and more mundane; eventually there are so many dead bodies they are simply buried in mass graves. At first, the mass graves are separated by gender. Then, men and women are buried together. Cemeteries begin to fill up, and cremation is the only way to deal with the large numbers of the dead.

All of this has the effect of damping people's emotions. They miss their loved ones less and fear the plague less. They seem to be "sleepwalkers" without anything to set them apart from each other. They have lost both individuality and the capacity to love in the suffering.


Part 3 explores the way that the plague erases divisions among people as they face their "collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all." The plague has moved from the outer, poorer areas of town to the center, wealthier areas. Prisoners in the jails die of plague, but so do their guards, "in the same proportion." The plague does not play favorites. Men and women die of plague, and after a while, so many are dead they are buried together in mass graves. Individual funeral rites, which in normal times provide a sense of closure for a life, are abandoned. The narrator calls the plague "despotic" in the way that it does not respect individual persons, reinforcing the allegorical nature of the novel.

The importance of imagination resurfaces in this chapter, as well. Those whose family and friends are somewhere outside the city are beginning to lose the ability to imagine what the absent ones might be doing. Their "imagination failed them" as they "lost the power of imagining the intimacy that once was theirs or understanding what it can be to live with someone whose life is wrapped up in yours." Without imagination, their very emotions become mundane clichés, such as wishing the plague would end. Without imagination, they talk about their absent loved ones, "using the same words as everybody else." This troubling lack of imagination recalls the narrator's previous distress that all communication going out of the city had been reduced to telegrams of 10 words or less. Speaking and feeling in clichés and stock phrases is seen as one of the ways the plague erases individuality.

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