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The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The novel is set in the 1940s in the Algerian city of Oran. A strange thing has begun happening in Oran. Rats are emerging into the streets, where they move awkwardly in a sort of dance, then bleed profusely and die. At first there are just a few. Then their numbers grow. Soon rats are dying this way by the thousands, so many that they have to be piled and burned. Dr. Bernard Rieux, a physician, recognizes the way the rats are dying is odd and know it is probably not a good sign.

After a while the rats stop dying. But before anyone can breathe a sigh of relief that the rat episode is over, people start showing disconcerting symptoms. They begin to die in much the same way as the rats. Dr. Castel, who works with Dr. Rieux, comes to believe the symptoms are those of the Black Plague. However, the city leaders are reluctant to acknowledge what is happening, even as the death toll grows, apathetic to the human suffering taking place under their noses.

Eventually, the city leaders are forced to take the situation seriously, and they quarantine the city. No one can enter or leave. Several things happen as a result. The city's residents are plunged into despair and spend all their time talking about how bad off they are and how they miss those who are far away. Raymond Rambert, a journalist visiting Oran from Paris, attempts to leave the city. When he is unsuccessful using normal channels, he pursues illegal ones. This leads him to strike up an acquaintance with Cottard, a smuggler, who recently attempted suicide and was saved by Joseph Grand, a man who is unsuccessful in job, marriage, and writing. Father Paneloux, a priest, believes the plague is God's punishment for sin and says as much in a sermon.

Jean Tarrou, a visitor confined to the city when it is quarantined, observes and keeps a journal of what is happening. He also recruits Dr. Rieux, Joseph Grand, and others to help fight the spread of the plague. Yet the plague continues to ravage the city, filling hospitals and cemeteries as it becomes increasingly contagious. A serum is developed but turns out to be a failure. More people die, including the young son of a magistrate, Jean Tarrou, Dr. Rieux's wife, and Father Paneloux. Eventually plague deaths begin to decline, and a new version of the serum seems to be effective. The quarantine is lifted, and the gates of the town are opened. Dr. Rieux is revealed to be the narrator of the story, telling readers his motivation for writing this "true account" was to document the "common suffering" he witnessed so that it would not be forgotten.

The Plague Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Rats begin to die in the town of Oran.

Rising Action

2 The number of dead rats increases exponentially.

3 Human deaths begin, and the disease is diagnosed as plague.

4 Oran is placed under quarantine, and the gates are shut.

5 Early attempts to use an anti-plague serum fail.

6 The plague takes on a more deadly and contagious form.


7 Joseph Grand recovers from illness; the plague declines.

Falling Action

8 Jean Tarrou dies.


9 The plague is over; the gates of Oran are opened.

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