Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 4 Chapter 20 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 4, Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Rambert is still trying to escape Oran. Arrangements have been made, and his escape attempt is scheduled in two weeks. In the meantime, he works diligently as a volunteer and stays with Marcel and Louis. But just before the appointed time, Rambert cancels his escape. He tells Dr. Rieux that he once felt like a stranger and wanted to escape, but now that he's helping he feels as if he belongs.

Analysis

The narrator opens this chapter by saying "[t]here was nothing to do but to 'mark time,' and some hundreds of thousands of men and women went on doing this, through weeks that seemed interminable." This is reminiscent of the image of the asthmatic patient, who marks time by transferring peas from one pan to another. His habit of moving peas is really no different, Camus suggests, from the other habits that people engage in to fill their lives: all are ultimately devoid of meaning.

One question at the heart of The Plague is what separates people and what unites them. It also asks what kinds of separation and unification are good and which are harmful. As presented in Chapter 19, Cottard, who once felt isolated by his fear, now feels like he belongs, due to widespread fear. Rambert, who has felt separated from the community of Oran by his outsider status and his longing to leave ("Until now I always felt a stranger in this town") begins to feel like he belongs due to his work with the volunteer sanitary squads ("I know that I belong here whether I want it or not.")

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