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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The Plague is a novel divided into five parts, like the five acts of a play. Like the classical drama, the book observes the unity of place, action, and character; but being a chronicle of the Oranian plague, it does not observe the unity of time, for it records the events surrounding the scourge from April to January.
The first part of the novel is largely introductory. It sets the scene of the action by describing Oran. It also introduces all the major characters and presents the problem: the plague. By the end of Part I, the gates of Oran have been closed in an effort to isolate the plague. The next four sections of the book are dominated by the disease and the citizen’s reaction to it.
The second part of the novel, which has nine sections, brings together the different characters’ responses to the plague. Rieux’s efforts are now supplemented with the efforts of Tarrou to organize a volunteer group to help the medical community. Also in this second part, the Themes of suffering, exile, and the importance of love begin to be developed.
Part III generally describes the devastation caused by the plague and the fight against it.
In Part IV, the protagonists begin to be victorious as the plague is forced into retreat.
In Part V, as the whole town prepares for the climax of reopening the gates to Oran and returning to normalcy, the plague gathers its last strength to strike and destroy Tarrou. In the conclusion, a weary Rieux is pleased that the plague has temporarily been defeated; but he is left devastated by the loss of his wife and his good friend Tarrou.
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The main form of suffering in the novel is seen in the victims of the bubonic plague. The pain inflicted by the disease is described in detail. The infected initially suffer from lumps and buboes, high fever with an early morning respite followed by delirium and a raging thirst. As the disease progresses, the pain worsens to the point of intolerance. Death is almost a relief.
In addition to the physical suffering described in the novel, the plague also causes psychological suffering. Because of its highly contagious nature, Oran must be cut off from the world. The isolation of the town creates all levels of suffering. People suddenly find that they are separated from their loved ones and suffer a great sense of loneliness and loss. Supplies of food and other necessities run low, causing the citizens, especially the poor ones, to suffer hunger and shortage. More importantly, they constantly fear that there will not be enough to sustain life in Oran. They also live under the constant fear of contracting the plague, as they grieve over the loss of family and friends who have succumbed to the disease.
Another major theme in the novel is human solidarity in times of trouble. Largely due to the efforts of Tarrou, a gifted organizer, many of the citizens of Oran band together to volunteer in the struggle against the plague. They work harmoniously and diligently to support the medical team as they battle the disease. Even the men who resist the volunteer effort in the beginning find themselves participating as the disease progresses. Grand abandons his literary efforts in order to join the volunteers; he comes to give his help each afternoon after work. M. Othon joins the fight after the plague attacks his son. Rambert joins the effort after his attempts to escape are thwarted. Even Father Paneloux, who believes that a priest can have no friends and that the plague has been sent by God as a punishment, contributes his share to the fight against the Plague by joining Tarrou’s team. Each link in this chain of human solidarity finds strength to fight the plague by joining with others.
Death is prevalent throughout the novel, and it is viewed as the great leveler of mankind. The plague indiscriminately strikes rich and poor, young and old. Although Rieux acknowledges that man, in the end, is helpless against death since all must die, he is committed to fighting for the living. Since he does not believe in God or an afterlife, it is important for him to battle death in an effort to preserve life. In a like manner, Tarrou, who also does not believe in God, spends his entire life fighting for the living. He is totally opposed to the death penalty and vigorously fights to have it abolished. He struggles against the plague with equal determination.
Even when he is infected with the disease, he refuses to give into it. In the end, however, Tarrou is helpless against the great leveler that snatches men from the living.