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Free Study Guide-The Plague by Albert Camus-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

PART I, SECTION 1

Summary

The opening of the novel describes the Algerian port of Oran. The town, which is surrounded by hills, is built on a plateau above a bay, but it does not face the sea. It is not an attractive place, for the climate is dry and there are no trees and no birds.

Oran is a commercial town, known particularly for trading in wines and spirits. Its inhabitants tend to be feverish in their pursuit of business during the week; in fact, they are so preoccupied with making money that they seem to have no imagination or soul. On the weekends, the pace is calmer as people relax, go to the beach, attend the cinema, and make love.

The regularity of life in Oran is disrupted by the occurrence of unusual events in the spring of 1940. The events are reported by a narrator, a resident of Oran, whose identity is not revealed until the end of the book; but he claims in the first section that he was in a position to collect data of these events, through personal observation, the accounts of eye witnesses, and certain official documents.


Notes

The novel is presented like a chronicle -- a history based on available facts and data. To make The Plague seem like a "true novel," it is written from the voice of a privileged narrator with an omniscient point of view. Because of the narratorís objective and minutely descriptive pictures, the novel is very realistic.

The narrator begins with a detailed description of Oran, Algeria, where the novel is set. Although it is a port city perched on a plateau above the bay, Oran does not face this sea. It is as if it has turned its back on the water, a symbol of life, refreshment, and cleansing. Because of its dry climate, Oran is not particularly attractive, for it lacks the natural beauty of trees and birds. With its barren landscape, it is an appropriate setting for a novel entitled The Plague.

It should be noted that the title of the novel immediately foreshadows the outcome of the book, for a plague implies the death of many people. Death is important in all the works of Camus, for he believes that a man can only begin to live when he acknowledges the reality of his own future death and accepts the finality it brings. Since he does not believe in an afterlife, the only meaning to a manís existence for Camus is what he accomplishes in his lifetime.

Even though Oran is hot and dry, it is described as a bustling city, a center of commerce where the people work at a feverish pace in their pursuit of money. Only on the weekends does the pace become slower. The people of Oran have become such creatures of habit that they do not tend to think or act independently or imaginatively. As a result, they easily become part of the "collective destiny" of the town that unfolds during the course of the novel. It is clear that Camus believes that the routine existence of the Oran citizens is absurd.

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