The Plague | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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The Plague | Quotes


Taking careful aim, the old man would spit vigorously at the cats and ... beam with delight.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 1, Chapter 3

The man who spits on cats is a character who illustrates the absurd because his action has no greater meaning, yet he takes delight in it. When one is able to find joy in the moment, the meaningless of life is less painful.


There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet [they] always ... take people equally by surprise.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 1, Chapter 5

This line, which appears toward the beginning of the novel, foreshadows the end of the novel, when the narrator reveals his reason for writing is so people will not forget what happened. The inevitable surprise suggests a kind of collective denial in facing death.


A hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 1, Chapter 5

The narrator explains why people, and especially the authorities of Oran, don't take the plague seriously for a long time. As long as they don't see the faces of the dead, they are not personally touched by their deaths.


Orders! ... When what's needed is imagination.

Jean Tarrou, Part 1, Chapter 8

Tarrou disdains the reaction of the government to the plague, saying that what is needed is imagination, not orders, to solve the problem. Tarrou's imaginative approach includes forming volunteer teams to fight the plague. His focus on using imagination, instead of simply experiencing the plague, is part of Camus's sense that more than one's present experience is significant.


Content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 2, Chapter 9

As the narrator explains how people reacted to the suffering of the plague, he notes how they began to feel isolated from one another, despite the fact that they were enduring a similar problem. The suffering of the plague takes away something important from the people: the ability to step outside their present moment through thought, memory, and imagination.


They seemed at the mercy of the sky's caprices—in other words, suffered and hoped irrationally.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 2, Chapter 9

The sky—the weather—weaves in and out of the story as a reminder of the indifference of the universe to human suffering. Nonetheless, the people continue to look to the weather for acknowledgement of their suffering, a meaningless act.


A time came when I should have found the words to keep her with me—only I couldn't.

Joseph Grand, Part 2, Chapter 10

Grand, speaking of why his wife left him after years of marriage, expresses the difficulty he has with finding the right words—a difficulty that breeds isolation and continues to haunt him throughout the book. The inability to communicate through language translates into the inability to connect with humanity.


No longer were they individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and ... [shared] emotions.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 3, Chapter 18

The idea that suffering and death are what all humans have in common is an important refrain in the book. This commonality defies imposed perceived differences such as race, class, or gender that people use to isolate themselves from one another.


Nothing ... is worth turning one's back on what one loves ... that is what I'm doing.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 4, Chapter 20

Dr. Rieux says this in reply to a longer conversation with Rambert about having to choose between happiness with a loved one and working to fight the plague. Throughout the book, Dr. Rieux mulls over why he helps people. Readers don't get to find out what he decides until the final chapter of the book.


What we learn in a time of pestilence ... there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, Part 5, Chapter 30

This simple statement that there are more admirable than despicable things about men is a positive and hopeful closing message. It supports the theme that acting admirably in the face of inevitable suffering is a noble aspect of the human condition.

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