First Part

An anonymous narrator chronicles the astonishing events that took place some time in Oran in the 1940s. Oran is described as insignificant and ugly, the inhabitants leading ordinary lives. Both the heat and the sunshine make the idea of dying difficult. Bernard Rieux, the doctor, finds a dead rat on his doorstep, which horrifies the porter, Monsieur Michel. That evening, the doctor discovers a second rat; meanwhile his wife is preparing to leave the city for a sanatorium in the mountains. The next day, there are three dead rats in the building; the porter believes they are bad omens. Doing the rounds of his patients, Rieux notices about 12 rats thrown into dustbins. He accompanies his wife to the station, they say goodbye trying to convince each other that they will meet again soon. The journalist Raymond Rambert interrogates Rieux on the sanitary conditions of the Arabs. Rieux watches Tarrou, a neighbour observing a rat dying in agony. The porter seems exhausted. Then the rats die in hundreds, the de-ratting service organises a daily collection. Eight thousand rats are collected a day, then the figures decrease. Rieux examines M. Michel who complains of ganglions, Raneloux the Jesuit priest is present. Joseph Grand, employed at the town hall, telephones Rieux as Cottard, his neighbour has tried to hang himself. After a delirious night, the porter dies.

Numerous deaths follow that of the porter. Extracts from Tarrou's notebooks break up the prose: notes taken haphazardly in the streets, giving the portrait of an old man spying on cats, panic attacks, statistics, character studies of Rieux. According to Dr Rieux, he is suffering from an inguinal fever. Cottard appears to fear police interrogation; Rieux is interrogated about the blemishes and bruises that appear on the dying. The press remains discreet. Doctor Castel, an older doctor who has lived in China, forces Rieux to admit that they are dealing with plague. Man imagines that he can live without threat and Rieux, watching the streets of Oran, cannot accept that evil can strike here. He recalls the Great Plagues from history yet to escape from the pessimism of these images he realises he must be rational.

Joseph Grand is a complex being: model employee without ambition, he wrestles with the difficulty of writing. He is sensible, one who will not tolerate the idea that plague has set in. The health commission does not dare to mention the idea of plague but at the end of their meeting they hear a woman screaming in agony. Various precautionary measures are taken. Cottard changes and he looks for sympathy from others. Rieux feels afraid and he searches for comfort from the crowd. Hospital rooms ready for the next wave of patients are already packed. The serum does not arrive. When the death toll increases once again, a state of plague is declared and the town is closed.

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