Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 4 Chapter 21 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 4, Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Near the end of October, Dr. Castel's new anti-plague serum is ready to test. M. Othon's son is the first trial, and it is unsuccessful. Despite Father Paneloux's passionate prayer for mercy, the boy dies. Dr. Rieux points out that the child was innocent, so the idea that the plague is a punishment from God, as Father Paneloux preached, does not hold water. Father Paneloux speaks of love and grace, but Dr. Rieux isn't convinced of any larger significance to the plague. He admits that, although they disagree on many things, they are both working to alleviate the suffering of the plague.

Analysis

Since this is the first trial of the anti-plague serum, there are more witnesses than usual at Jacques Othon's death. What is more, they wait and watch as, minute by minute, the child suffers and dies; all the while, they are hoping for signs that the serum is starting to work. This particular attention causes them to tune in to the suffering and death more than they have in other cases of children dying, even though there have been plenty. A child dying of plague has become less of an abstraction and more concrete. The failure of the serum is a blow to those who are trying to fight the plague, and the image of Father Paneloux crying out "My God, spare this child!" over the dying cry of the boy is a powerful one for characters and readers alike.

Ultimately, the experience unites the witnesses even more strongly in their common cause to fight the plague. Having a common cause is perhaps more unifying than common suffering. As Paneloux tells Rieux: "We're working side by side for something that unites us—beyond blasphemy and prayers."

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