Literature Study GuidesThe PlaguePart 4 Chapter 24 Summary

The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Part 4, Chapter 24 | Summary

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Summary

The quarantine camps, with their smell and the sense of dread they inspire, lower morale among the citizens of Oran. People are anxious, and there are more incidents of "disturbing the peace." The weather has turned rainy. Tarrou and Dr. Rieux pay a visit to Dr. Rieux's asthmatic patient. The two speak with the old Spaniard, then go outside for a talk. Tarrou reveals that he's already had the "plague," and that overall he has had a good life. He also reveals that his father memorized train schedules, although he did not take the train. One day, he says, his father invited him to watch a court proceeding that he was involved in as a prosecuting attorney. During the trial, Tarrou had developed a sympathy for the defendant, even though he looked fairly guilty. But his father argued against the defendant, and the man was declared guilty and executed. Tarrou came to think of this as a murder, not as his father doing his job. Later he had seen a man killed by a firing squad. This was when he realized he actually had the "plague." He maintains that in life, there are many pestilences, but they must be fought against. His method is to act and speak simply, so as to avoid making the problem worse.

Tarrou believes there can be healers in the world, and he's trying to be one. If he were religious, a healer might be called a "saint." Dr. Rieux responds that he does not want to be a healer or saint, but just a man.

After this rather heavy discussion, the two go for a swim in the sea.

Analysis

Readers should recall that Tarrou told Dr. Rieux previously that he already knew everything. In this chapter, insight into this statement is revealed. Tarrou applies the term plague to something more than the disease they are currently fighting. In his description of his childhood, he observes that he has already had the "plague." He is part of a system that includes the death penalty, which he believes is murder. By taking part in an epidemic of state-sanctioned murder, he has already learned the lessons that plague has to teach. Camus was against the death penalty, so in this episode he is able to frame his own political opinions in the language of the plague. The idea that humans must continue to struggle against the various "plagues" that cause human suffering and death is a central idea in the novel.

As Tarrou explains his ideas about his personal plague, he delves into a subject that he touched on previously when he said that the asthmatic patient was a saint if saintliness was the accumulation of habits: how to become a saint, apart from the Church or religion. Like Dr. Rieux, he seeks to lead a good, meaningful life. But Tarrou seems more inclined to use the language of religion to express his goal. Tarrou wants to be a healer—an atheist saint. Dr. Rieux wants to be a human.

The sea figures prominently in many works by Camus, and though it is mostly just a presence in The Plague, here two men dive into its depths, both figuratively in their speech and literally when they go for a swim. Perhaps in its depths Tarrou finds the silence that he believes holds the truth.

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