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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
PART I, SECTION 5
As the plague spreads and worsens, the citizens of Oran refuse to accept its true implications. They are so self-absorbed in their own successes that they cannot accept the reality of any calamity that they cannot bring under their control. They simply and naively assume the plague will pass away. Ironically, it will be the citizens who pass away instead.
Dr. Rieux tries to recall the great plague epidemics that have been recorded in history. He remembers the ten thousand deaths a day at Constantinople and the Canton epidemic that occurred only forty years earlier. He also recalls Athens being reduced to a charnel house and mass burials in Marseilles. He hopes that Oran will not suffer the same kind of fate; but he acknowledges that all he can do is to do his job, "as it should be done."
Only Dr. Rieux seems to understand the gravity of the situation in Oran. The rest of the citizens are too self-absorbed in their present work and making money for their future to acknowledge the seriousness of the plague. Since they are people of action, they feel completely frustrated that they cannot bring the disease under control. They do not take preventive measures and simply assume that it will soon pass away. Rieux realizes that he cannot change the populace. All he can do it to do his job in the best way possible.
Camus is clearly attacking the naivete of the citizens as absurd; but he also sees the plague as absurd. He knows that it is the enemy of freedom. It controls lives and renders future plans meaningless. Since Camus does not believe in an afterlife, it is only everyday existence that is important to him. The plague, however, creates an irrational and hostile universe that opposes mankind and strips life away in an absurd fashion.
PART I, SECTION 6
Grand brings Rieux the latest death toll statistics, which are not good; but he tells Rieux that he is still convinced that the epidemic will not really get a stranglehold on Oran. After Grand rushes off to his "personal work," the nature of which he will not explain, Rieux reflects on what he knows about this older gentleman. He feels that Grand has lived an exemplary life characterized by good deeds and displays of affection. Despite his pleasant personality, Grand has never gotten ahead in life because of his "attributes of insignificance" and his inability to find the proper words or to flatter his seniors. Because of an official oversight that he will not protest, Grandís salary is a mere pittance. Rieux also thinks about Grandís frail build, which will probably prove to be a benefit. The doctor speculates that Grand will be spared from the plague because of his size, for the disease tends to attack robust constitutions.
In spite of the alarming death rate in the last forty-eight hours, Grand is still optimistic that the plague will not last long in Oran. After he delivers the statistics to Rieux, he rushes off to his personal business, which he never discusses. After he departs, Rieux reflects on this eccentric, self-effacing man who works in a government office for a small amount of money without complaining. Even though the existentialists would consider the dull routine of his life absurd, they would call him an "authentic" being, because he is sincere and does not play a role.
Camus intends for Grand to be a representative of the average man in Oran. He is so wrapped up in himself and his work that he cannot take the time to face the seriousness of the plague. He optimistically chooses to believe that it will simply go away before long.