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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
PART I, SECTION 4
Although Cottard survives his suicide attempt, there is an inquiry into his action. At the inquiry, it is revealed that Grand never really befriended or conversed with his neighbor. Since Grand is considered to be a kind, helpful, and even generous man, his behavior seems out of character; but he says that he was too involved in his private work to have time for Cottard. Dr. Rieux attends the inquiry and prevents the police from being too rough with Cottard.
Dr. Rieux continues to be concerned about the many illnesses in Oran. Dr. Richard, Chairman of the Medical Association, is also confused by the increasing number of cases of high fever; however, he refuses to allow Dr. Rieux to isolate the patients, as recommended, since there is no definite proof of contagion. He and the other medical authorities in town also refuse to reference the disease as the plague until there is more evidence. Only Dr. Castel, Rieux’s elder colleague, declares that it is the plague. He is certain because he has seen many cases of it in China and France.
Camus presents a real irony in this chapter. The local newspaper give front-page headlines to the dead and dying rats; however, they fail to mention anywhere in the paper the news of the dying people.
This section, which is filled with irony and sarcasm, centers on the refusal of the medical authorities to face the truth about what is happening in Oran. They do not want to alarm the citizens; therefore, they refuse to isolate the people suffering with high fever or refer to the sickness as the plague until there is more evidence. Dr. Richard, the head of the medical association, even refuses to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease in spite of Dr. Rieux’s encouragement. Only the elder Dr. Castel is willing to state with certainty what is going on.
Throughout the section, it is clear that Camus is criticizing bureaucratic officials who refuse to take responsibility and do not deserve to hold their positions. It is absurd that Dr. Richard should worry about his reputation or let his ego come in the way of taking the recommendation of a junior.
The Cottard inquiry sheds more light on Grand. Although he is considered by everyone to be a very kind and human person, he was so self-absorbed in his work that he did not help Cottard, his neighbor, until he attempted suicide. If Grand had befriended him and encouraged him to voice his secret fears, Cottard’s attempt to take his own life might have been averted. Later in the book it is learned that Grand’s absorption in his work also caused his wife to leave him. Since Grand is a public official, Camus is again criticizing the absurdity of a bureaucrat who thinks his job is more important than human relationships.