Plot Summary

The Plague (1947) is the chronicle of a cruel epidemic that allegedly struck Oran, a small town in Algeria, during the 1940s. The narrator, Dr Rieux, discovers a dead rat on his doorstep at the beginning of Chapter 2 - a seemingly harmless occurrence that provides the first warning of the catastrophic events to follow. For indeed the rats are the carriers of bubonic plague; as they emerge from their holes to die they spread disease and contagion throughout the city. As the novel progresses, the rats die in increasing numbers and then, far more dangerously and mysteriously, men, women and children begin to be struck down. The city officials are at first reluctant to confront the gravity of the situation yet with an increasing death toll they are compelled to act. A state of contagious plague is declared and consequently the city of Oran is sealed off from the rest of the outside world. It is only nine months later that the plague's loosens its fatal grip and the community can begin to return to normal life. Despite the enormous efforts of doctors, volunteer workers and priests, the death toll is huge. For the main characters the struggle has indeed been arduous: both Tarrou and Paneloux have died whilst Rambert and Cottard are profoundly changed. Those that have survived are either unsure of whether they have won a kind of victory or merely benefited from chance. At the end of the novel the reader is left with Dr Rieux himself pondering this. He decides that the struggle for life is indeed worthwhile yet leaves the reader with the unsettling feeling that the plague may all too easily strike again and this time may never be defeated.

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