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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The novel is set in the 1940s in the Algerian coastal town of Oran. Struck by an epidemic of the plague, the town is sealed off and isolated from the world during the major action of the novel. Since Oran is a port, it is normally a center of business activity, especially in the trade of wines and spirits. Although the town is built on a plateau, it faces away from the sea, as if to avoid being distracted from its business activities.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Dr. Bernard Rieux
The narrator of the story, who is about thirty-five years of age. He is totally committed to his work as a medical practitioner, which brings him into contact with a large segment of the Oran population. Although a kind man, he is uncompromising in his moral principles and his fight against evil and human suffering. He is instrumental in fighting the plague.
A newcomer to Oran. He is an acute observer of men and manners, which he records with relish. His boundless energy for life and his friendliness make him an ideal organizer of a squad of volunteers, who will join the medical staff in fighting the plague.
An elderly municipal clerk. He is hardworking to the point that he often ignores his wife. His aspiration in life is to write a great literary work on which he works during his free time. He has adapted his needs to his very low income, leading a simple and fairly contented life.
A highly respected and learned Jesuit priest. He champions Christian doctrine at its "most precise and purest". A plain- speaking man, he preaches that the plague has been sent as God’s punishment to make mankind better. After he witnesses innocent young children suffering and dying from the plague, he softens his stance and participates in the struggle against the disease.
A Parisian newspaperman who comes to Oran to write a news story. An intelligent and determined young man, he is simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the plague breaks out and the city gates are closed, he finds himself locked in Oran against his will. He protests his captivity and tries unsuccessfully to escape. In the end, he joins in the effort to fight the plague.
A man who greatly fears being arrested by the police. After attempting to commit suicide, he thrives during the outbreak of the plague by indulging in smuggling and other activities. His fear of being arrested grips him again once the plague recedes, and he loses his mental balance.
The unemotional, very formal magistrate who tries to ignore the fear of the plague and continue his habitual way of life until his son is attacked and dies of the disease.
Wife of Dr. Rieux
A sickly woman who leaves Oran to go for a cure at a sanitarium. Although she escapes the plague in Oran, she dies at the sanitarium.
The mother of Dr. Rieux. She arrives in Oran just before the outbreak of the plague. Her calm, gentle, supportive, and self- effacing manner comforts Dr. Rieux and Tarrou during their struggles against the plague.
Dr. Rieux’s older colleague. A brusque, much-traveled doctor, he is the first to identify the plague and prepare the serum for inoculation.
Raoul, Garcia, Gonzales, Sentries (Marcel and Louis)
Cottard’s contacts who try to help Rambert escape. Of these, Gonzales joins in the work against the plague.
Several varied people in the novel who almost act as a chorus, including the man who spat at cats and the asthmatic patient who sorts peas.