Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 4 Chapter 23 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 4, Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

It's All Soul's Day, but no one wants to visit the graves of their loved ones because they "no longer wished to be reminded of their dead." The weather has become pleasantly autumn-like. People have taken to wearing waterproof clothing to keep away the plague, even though this is clearly just a way for stores to make a profit from people's fear of the plague.

The plague continues to kill people with the "punctual zeal of a good civil servant." Since the deaths are not increasing, Dr. Richard is pleased and thinks the worst may be over. He believes this may be in part due to Dr. Castel's serum, which has been effective in a few cases. Dr. Richard soon comes down with plague symptoms. To make matters worse, a new form of plague emerges—one that is more like pneumonia.

In his journal, Tarrou has recorded a visit to a quarantine camp. It is guarded like a prison, and each person has his own tent. Those in the camp are unsympathetic to each other and know they've been forgotten by those outside. They discover that M. Othon is the manager of the camp, and he asks about his son's death. Tarrou tells him, "No, I couldn't really say he suffered."

Analysis

The narrator makes a point of noting that, as the weather cools, it does so just as it usually does. "As in other years a cool wind blew all day." Should readers interpret this as the seasons go on as usual, despite the disrupting influence of the plague, or like plague, and war, seasons come and go whether or not people are ready for them, or some other interpretation? Recalling that the weather has at times mirrored the plague, sometimes it seemed to contrast the plague, sometimes it is predictable, and sometimes "unseasonable," perhaps Camus invites readers to remember that the weather is indifferent and is in no way connected to the plague, although it is similarly uncaring of the graph that encourages Dr. Richard so much before he dies.

As for the plague, now that it has been ongoing for seven months, deaths have reached a plateau, but that plateau is so high that the "balefires of the pestilence were blazing ever more merrily in the crematorium." It has passed the point of erasing boundaries among people, and has turned to doing the opposite. In the quarantine camps, people await death in individual tents, alone. Since food is becoming scarce, it has become expensive, and so the poor suffer more than the rich, "whereas plague by its impartial ministrations should have promoted equality among our townsfolk, it now had the opposite effect." Tarrou notices the way the plague is dividing people from one another and chalks it up to people being incapable of thinking about others, because that takes up one's whole attention. "Nobody is capable of really thinking about anyone ... For really to think about someone means thinking about that person every minute of the day, without letting one's thoughts be diverted by anything." Somehow this bears a similarity to the way that Dr. Rieux has to put his own feelings aside to focus on the plague and how Father Paneloux felt that he must have complete faith or no faith. Each character seems to grasp for his or her absolute—his own way of seeing the world in black and white.

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