Summary, Review, and Favorite Quotes from the Plague by Albert Camus

For many of us grappling with this pandemic, there is a certain sense of mundane struggle in the humdrum of our everyday. People around the world are all scrambling for some sense of routine and order in a life that has been upheaved by something we experience as a global village. Some turn to reviving old hobbies, perhaps like crocheting, or sports, or even arts! Others are taking this time to find new ones, like cooking and baking, and even coffee brewing!

But for many bookworms, this pandemic has given us a moment’s reprieve—as well all try to do our part and stay home. And while many of us have relished this chance to scour online bookstores in the PH to turn to books as our escape, The Plague by Albert Camus could not be farther from that type of read. Rather, treat this book as hope for that which is to come for us a society—for a tomorrow wherein we conquer this pandemic of our own.


A Summary of The Plague by Albert Camus

Albert Camus’ the Plague takes place in the 19th century, situated in the bustling Algerian porty city of Oran. Our main protagonist takes form in the person of Dr. Bernard Rieux—a physician attending to the townsfolk. The city of Oran falls into distress when roughly a thousand rats run manically into the open and die strange spinning, bloody deaths. The general public, aided by the press, call for government action for the collection and cremation of the blighted rat bodies which they do so half-heartedly. The strange deaths of the rodents are soon followed by similar deaths in the community of Oran, alarming Dr. Rieux’ colleague, Castel and the rest of the townsfolk.

Castel surmises that the strange deaths may be a localized bubonic break outbreak and begins working with Dr. Rieux to lobby for prompt action from both government officials and fellow medical professionals. This signals the start of the conflict in the Plague by Albert Camus, as their efforts are met with indifference much to their disappointment. The situation only improves once the body count of Oran has grown high enough—and when both officials and doctors can no longer ignore the situation caused by their negligence. Strict sanitation measures and a city-wide quarantine are put into place, creating tension among the citizens as they struggle with these feelings of imprisonment and futility. In these desperate times, the citizens of Oran turn to various means to cope OR escape their circumstances--- fervent religion in the person of Father Paneloux who proclaims the epidemic is payment for Oran’s sins, criminal activity and lifestyle in the form of young journalist Raymond Rambert’s desperate dealings for an escape with Cottard’s criminal associate, and simple selfish personal distress at the plague’s effects on their lives.

The city-wide quarantine lasts months, leaving plenty of deaths in its wake. Yet what comes after is a change in disposition. Oran comes to recognize this as a shared struggle within their community, one that they must battle together in order to outlast the epidemic ravaging their people. Rieux and Paneloux have a heated discussion regarding the epidemic’s nature after the death of a small boy leaves the latter shaken, the latter changes his outlook on the disease.

As the citizens of Oran continue to help each other survive and rebuild both within the quarantine and thereafter, the story nears its close with Rieux and his camp suffering losses themselves, including some of Rieux’ colleagues and his own wife. The physician is joined by reporter Rambert, who never left Oran and instead continued to volunteer for Rieux’ endeavors. Rambert is reunited with his wife from Paris when the officials open the borders once more. As the community recovers, it is Rieux and those working in the medical profession alongside him that suffer the most losses. The Plague by Albert Camus concludes with Rieux admitting to being the narrator of our story, and how this chronicle is meant to prepare those in similar plagues by narrating their experience of human suffering.


Our Analysis of the Plague by Albert Camus

Camus is a master of the ‘Absurdity’ – a philosophical school of thought rooted in the belief of meaningless suffering. Illustrated best by his work on the Myth of Sisyphus and how he endlessly pushes the Boulder up the Mountain, the plot of the Plague by Albert Camus tackles the philosophy of Absurdity by telling us a story of Dr. Rieux’ seemingly futile struggles to call for urgent action while pushing back against an ignorant government and healthcare system; a problem further exacerbated by Oran’s self-pitying community.

While The Plague by Albert Camus is high up on our list of pandemic novels to read because of its very real and poignant take on the handling of an epidemic and the plights of health workers like Dr. Rieux and Dr. Castel, it also pays to treat government ignorance and societal apathy as a plague in and of itself. This is the deeper, more metaphorical warning that Albert Camus warns us of in his tale of Oran. And yet, his grim tale is left on a hopeful note as well. One best captured by my favorite quote from The Plague by Albert Camus—

“What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.” – Dr. Bernard Rieux


Our Verdict?

The Plague by Albert Camus gets a 9/10

In the same way that Dr. Rieux and the rest of Oran’s society came together to deal with the outbreak after the initial shock and pain that it brought in its wake, our health workers and fellowmen continue to put their lives on the line with endless service and volunteer work. The Plague by Albert Camus gave me a better appreciation for our health workers-- a gratefulness for them for toughing it out in battlefields we can only dream of. Doing our part by ‘suffering in exile’ and staying home is the kindest thing we can do for them.

This is an eye-opening fictional account told through the eyes of an objective and somewhat grim narrator working in healthcare-- which may not be for everyone. But in my opinion, it is one of the best reads you can pick up to better understand our frontliners.

If you’re still on the fence about getting some reading done this quarantine, here’s why reading books during a pandemic may just be your next hobby. But if you’re looking to shop this book for yourself, hit up some online bookstores in the Philippines and checkout.