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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
PART I, SECTION 7
Rieux finally succeeds in making the authorities convene a meeting to consider measures against the epidemic. He meets with resistance and hostility as he insists on immediate stringent preventive steps against the plague. Many of the officials still want to wait and until the disease is clearly identified as contagious, and many of the doctors are overly concerned about whether the disease should be called the plague. In contrast, the conscientious Rieux is simply interested in saving lives.
The politicians are hesitant to take preventive measure to save human lives because they are afraid of facing the consequences in case they err in their assessment of the situation. They seem to value their reputations and positions more than they value human lives. In a similar manner, many of the doctors seem more concerned about labeling the disease than in preventing and treating it. Only Rieux speaks out for the need to take immediate preventive steps to stop the spread of the plague that is devastating Oran.
PART I, SECTION 8
When the authorities finally agree to warn the people about the disease, they offer them advisory measures to avoid the plague instead of making certain restrictions compulsory. They treat it as a problem of sanitation and hygiene, not of isolation and quarantine as Rieux had wanted. As a result, the death toll mounts. By the time special wards are opened and the plague serum is ordered from Paris, the epidemic is out of control.
Ironically, some of the citizens, who are instinctively destructive, feel enlivened by the epidemic and the tragedies it is causing. Cottard, in particular, undergoes a dramatic change; from wanting to be left alone, he becomes friendly, lively, and animated, going out to eat and chatting with others. Rieux also reacts to the plague; but he feels dazed by its destruction and fears that Oran will be wiped out. He knows that there will not be enough serum to inoculate the whole population.
When there is a slight change in the weather, there is a small lull in the progress of the epidemic, and people, including Rieux, hope that the worst is over. When the weather returns to normal, the epidemic worsens. On two consecutive days, the death toll reaches thirty a day. As a result, the officials finally grow alarmed and order a state of emergency. They isolate Oran by closing the city gates.
As the death toll continues to rise, the officials finally decide to act. They post a small warning in the newspaper and send to Paris for serum to fight the plague. They also concentrate on sanitation issues, as if that will make the disease disappear. Although some of the citizens, including Rieux, grow more fearful about the plague’s potential destruction, some people seem to be enlivened by it. Cottard, who usually wants to be left alone in peace, suddenly becomes friendly and animated, going out to dinner and chatting with others.
When the death toll reaches thirty a day for two consecutive days, the officials can no longer deny the truth. They proclaim that the epidemic is the plague and quarantine Oran from the rest of the world.
As things have worsened in Oran, nothing outside the town seems to have changed. The Mediterranean sky is still bright blue, and the waves still lap the shore below. It is a sharp contrast to the death and destruction that is now closed in behind the city gates.