Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Dr. Bernard Rieux
Dr. Rieux is a medical doctor who is described as a dark man with dark, steady eyes, a prominent jaw, and a knowledgeable look. As the narrator and central character of the book, he has a strong commitment to telling the truth and being objective and realistic about the plague and its hold on Oran.
As a person, he is an extremely hard worker; but he is also kind and generous to those around him. Unfortunately, his devotion to his work causes him to sometimes neglect his wife, who is very ill. During the course of the novel, Dr. Rieux sends her to a sanitarium even though the treatment is expensive and he cannot really afford it.
He looks forward to her return home and promised to make a fresh start of their marriage upon her arrival. She, however, dies at the sanitarium.
Because of his separation from his wife, Rieux sometimes feels lonely and isolated. As a result, he is very sympathetic to Rambert and tries to help him escape from Oran so he can be united with his family.
Rieux is a man of uncompromising principles. If he cannot get to the truth of a situation, he will have nothing to do with it. His honesty and truthfulness lead Rambert to call him Saint Just, the extremist Jacobean during the French Revolution. His integrity and uncompromising character also lead others to trust him without question.
People easily relate to the kind and generous Dr. Rieux. Tarrou believes that the doctor is "more human" than most people and forms a deep friendship with him.
Grand appreciates the fact that Rieux is willing to give him free treatment since he is poor. He trusts the doctor so much that he confides in Rieux about his broken marriage and his literary work. Even Father Paneloux trust Dr. Rieux’s good intentions even when he loses his temper with the priest.
Rieux’s positive attitude and hard work inspire the citizens of Oran to have confidence in him. In truth, he is tireless in his efforts to convince the authorities in the town about the seriousness of the plague. He is also unrelenting in trying to stop the spread of the plague and to help those who are suffering from the horrors of the disease. His most touching goodness, however, is seen in his interest in Grand and his literary work. He takes the time from his busy schedule to make his neighbor feel important and worthwhile.
Although Rieux has difficulty expressing his own emotions, he has enjoyed a close relationship with his mother, who inspires him to care for others. Even though he loves his wife deeply, he has difficulty communicating this. It is only after she has gone to the sanitarium and then passes away that he can express the pain of his separation from her. Rieux even has trouble expressing to Tarrou the importance of their friendship.
Rieux’s purpose is writing the book is a noble one, just like his character. He hopes that by recording the events surrounding the plague in Oran that future generations will profit from the account and manage better if the plague should again rear its ugly head. Although he knows that man can never conquer death, he wants to inspire others to fight against it in every way possible.
Prior to arriving in Oran, Tarrou had devoted his life to fighting against the death penalty. He considers his own ability to mobilize people and to organize them to fight evil as his greatest asset. He uses this ability to organize a group of volunteers to aid the medical community in their fight against the plague.
As a man, Tarrou is good humored and friendly. He never looks down upon a person and inspires them to confide in him. Cottard feels he can discuss his unclean moral conscience with Tarrou, which he is unable to do with Dr. Rieux. The doctor himself trusts Tarrou entirely and builds a close friendship with him. When Tarrou dies at the end of the novel, Rieux is devastated.
Tarrou is totally committed to his ideas. While his opposition to the death penalty is based upon his belief in the value of human life, his behavior towards his parents appears ruthless. He never takes the time to tell his family why he abruptly leaves home even though he has said that his father is a harmless and decent family man. Most critics agree that he really hated his father for his marital infidelities and used his imposition of the death penalty as a concrete reason for deserting him. No matter the reason, Tarrou comes across as one of the most complex characters in the novel, and his diaries, which are included in the book, give a clear insight into this interesting man.
Grand is one of the most colorless characters in the novel. He is content to earn a very small salary as a municipal clerk and to live a very humble lifestyle. In spite of his poverty, he has a dream. He believes he will write a literary masterpiece, on which he diligently works in his spare time. When the masterpiece is destroyed before its completion, he vows to start anew. Because he refuses to let life frustrate him, Rieux considers Grand to be a hero.
Rieux is surprised to learn that Grand had been married. His wife left him because he was willing to settle for a life of poverty and because he spent all of his spare time on his literary work, never paying her attention. Since her departure, he has kept mostly to himself, and few people in Oran really know him. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that he goes to Cottard’s aid, to the extent of wanting to cover up his attempted suicide from the authorities. He also joins Tarrou’s troop of volunteers, coming in after work to help in the struggle against the plague.
Rambert is a determined, quick-tempered, young journalist who grows into a mature human being in the course of the novel. Employed by a Parisian newspaper, he is sent to Oran to report on the sanitary conditions of the Arabs. Before his story is written, the plague attacks the town, and Rambert finds himself imprisoned in Oran and separated from his wife. He does not accept his imprisonment easily and seeks to escape in any way possible. Rieux, who understands the young man’s desire to return to Paris, does not try to stand in his way. The final ironic reversal and the acceptance of commitment occurs when Rambert realizes he is needed in Oran and refuses his one chance of escape, He has grown up to realize that every human being must pull his weight in a human calamity. He is rewarded by escaping the plague and being reunited with his wife.