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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
PART IV, SECTION 6
Tarrou accompanies Rieux to the home of an asthmatic patient. After tending to the man, Rieux and Tarrou go up on the terrace to relax for an hour. Tarrou tries to explain his origins and his reasons for participating in the struggle against the disease. He cannot accept the plague as part of the natural order of things and feels he must fight against it.
Tarrou gives a lot of information about his past. As a young man he was successful in school and with females. He also lived a comfortable life. His father was a public prosecutor, who was considered to be kind, good-natured, and understanding. Even in his marital infidelities, he was discreet. Tarrou considered him a harmless man until one day he heard him in court. When he demanded the death of a young criminal, Tarrou judged him to be a murderer. After this incident, Tarrou found it impossible to live under the same roof with his father. As a result, he left home without explanation. He returned home occasionally, mainly to see his mother. His father never knew the real reason for his sonís departure.
Left to his own resources, Tarrou became an agitator against the death penalty. He felt he had to fight against the state, which condoned the murder of citizens. During his travels, he went to Hungary, where he saw a firing squad kill a man. He was haunted by the memory and had trouble sleeping at night. The incident made him fight against the death penalty even harder. In his fight against the plague, Tarrou refuses to accept that the disease has to be a death penalty.
Tarrou divides the order of existence into two parts: the threshing machine and its victims. He believes that authorities who sanction the death penalty and the plague are part of the threshing machine. He is dedicated to fighting for the victims of the machine.
Tarrou acknowledges that there is a third kind of person beyond the thresher and the victim - a healer, like Rieux. Tarrou knows that a healerís vocation is hard, but he wants to be part of the healing process. He wants to bring peace and become a saint in a world without God. Rieux responds that he cares little for heroism or saintliness, but he would like to be a man with greater ideals. Tarrou and Rieux seal their friendship with a swim in the sea. The swim is filled with symbolism.
Earlier in the book, Rieuxís worldview was presented. Now Tarrou gives his viewpoints. He identifies the enemy as the threshing machine - whether it be in the form of the plague or the form of the cold-blooded institutionalized killing by the state. Since he is a strong opponent of the death penalty, he feels that everyone that approves or accepts this hideous form of punishment suffers from a kind of plague.
He believes that all those who do not fight against death, be it the plague or a state ordered death penalty, are passive murderers.
Tarrou reveals that his father was in the legal profession. Since he was a public prosecutor, Tarrou judged him to be a state- appointed murderer. He found him so despicable that he had to leave home without explanation and has never been able to forgive him for imposing the death penalty on those he found guilty. Because of his negative feelings toward the legal profession, it is not surprising that Tarrou finds M. Othon unacceptable.
Once again there is an obvious parallel to the war. Tarrouís criticism of state-approved murder and those who support it is really a criticism of Hitlerís murderous policies and those who enforced them.
Both Rieux and Tarrou are fighting against the same enemy, even though they come from different purposes and backgrounds. Both of them want to eradicate suffering and death and the agents that cause them. Both are also uncompromising in their struggle against "the threshing machine" for the benefit of the victims. In their struggles, both Rieux and Tarrou become exiles.
The theme of being exiled is an important one throughout the book. In the beginning, Rieux felt exiled because of his separation from his wife and his stance against the plague, a contrast to the stance of the authorities; Tarrou felt exiled because he was an outsider in Oran. Now the two are exiled together as they struggle against manís fate as imposed by agents of death. The struggle is not a heroic deed but a necessity. To preserve the sanctity of life in the absence of God (Nietzeheís challenge to mankind) is what Tarrou calls saintliness, and he strives for that through sympathy with and aid to his fellowmen.
The final applause is reserved for Rieux when Tarrou concedes that there is a third category of men besides the oppressor and the oppressed; he calls Rieux a true healer. The doctor, however, disclaims any desire to be a hero or saint, settling for being a man who must fact the harshness of the human condition and acknowledge that there is no final victory over death.
The final swim in the sea is symbolic of a kind of consummation of the perfect relationship and understanding between Tarrou and Rieux. Both have plunged into a deep milieu where the currents may pull them down if they are not careful. The sea is also a symbol of the promise of the limitless possibilities in life that lie beyond the confines of the plague infested present. The perfect harmony of their strokes as they swim side by side suggests their bonding as well as their isolation in swimming against the tide of the world. Rieux on his first surfacing after the dive into the sea had already experienced a mystical communion with the order of the universe as he looked up at the dome of the sky. Then Tarrou joins him in human communion.