The Plague (Albert Camus)

Background: ALBERT CAMUS (1913-1960), French novelist, journalist, and playwright,
has been identified with the Existentialist movement but steadfastly
denied any affinity with that philosophy. He had a profound
effect not just on French literature but on social philosophy. His
observations on bubonic plague were drawn at first hand while he lived
in Algiers.

During the first few weeks Rieux was compelled to stay with the patient till
the ambulance came. Later, when each doctor was accompanied by a
volunteer police officer, Rieux could hurry away to the next patient.
But, to begin with, every evening was like that evening when he was
caned in for Mme. Loret’s daughter. He was shown into a small apartment
decorated with fans and artificial flowers. The mother greeted him with a
faltering smile.

“Oh, I do hope it’s not the fever everyone’s talking about.”

Lifting the coverlet and chemise, he gazed in silence at the red blotches
on the girt’s thighs and stomach, the swollen ganglia. After one glance the
mother broke into shrill, uncontrollable cries of grief. And every evening
mothers wailed thus, with a distraught abstraction, as their eyes fell on
those fatal stigmata on limbs and bellies; every evening hands gripped
Rieux’s arms, there was a rush of useless words, promises, and tears; every
evening. the nearing tocsin of the ambulance provoked scenes as vain as
every form of grief. Rieux had nothing to look forward to but a long
sequence of such scenes, renewed again and again.

* * *

“What did you think of Paneloux’s sermon, Doctor?”

The question was asked in a quite ordinary tone, and Rieux answered in
the same tone.

“I’ve seen too much of hospitals to relish any idea of collective punishment.
But, as you know, Christians sometimes say that sort of thing
without really thinking it. They’re better than they seem.”

“However, you think, like Paneloux; that the plague has its good side; it
opens men’s eyes and forces them to take thought?”

The doctor tossed his head impatiently.

“So.does every ill that flesh is heir to. What’s true of all the evils in the
world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All
the same, when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman or
a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.”

Rieux had hardly raised his voice at all; but Tarrou made a slight gesture
as If to calm him, He was smiling.

“Yes.” Rieux shrugged his shoulders. “But you haven’t answered my
question yet. Have you weighed the consequences?”

Tarrou squared his shoulders against the back of the chair, then moved
his head forward into the light.

“Do you believe in God, Doctor?”

Again the question was put in an ordinary tone. But this time Rieux took
longer to find his answer.

“No – but what does that really mean? I’m fumbling in the dark, struggling
to make something out. But I’ve long ceased finding that

“Isn’t that it-the gulf between Paneloux and you?”

“I doubt it. Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in
contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the
truth, with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishoners
and has heard man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d
try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence.”

Rieux stood up; his face was now in shadow. “Let’s drop the subject,” he
said, as you won’t answer.”

Tarrou remained seated in his chair; he was smiling again.

“Suppose I answer with a question. ”

The doctor now smiled, too.

“You like being mysterious, don’t you? Yes, fire away.”

“My question’s this,” said Tarrou, “Why do you yourself show such
devotion, considering you don’t believe in God? I suspect your answer may
help me to mine.”

His face still in shadow, Rieux said that he’d already answered: that if he
believed in an all-powerful God he would cease curing the sick and leave
that to HIm. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort; no, not
even Paneloux, who believed that he believed in such a God. And this was
proved by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely.
Anyhow, in this respect Rieux believed himself to be on the right
road-in fighting against creation as he found it.

“Ah,” Tarrou remarked. “So that’s the idea you have of your profession?”

“More or less.” The doctor came back into the light.

Tarrou made a faint whistling noise with his lips, and the doctor gazed
at him.

“Yes, you’re thinking it calls for pride to feel that way. But I assure you
I’ve no more than the pride that’s needed to keep me going. I have no idea
what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when all this ends. For the
moment I know this; there are sick people and they need curing. Later on,
perhaps, they’ll think things over; and so shall I. But what’s wanted now is
to make them welL I defend them as best I can, that’s all.”

“Against whom?”

Rieux turned to the window. A shadow-line on the horizon told of the
presence of the sea. He was conscious only of his exhaustion, and at the
same time was struggling against a sudden, irrational impulse to unburden
himself a little more to his companion; an eccentric, perhaps, but who, he
guessed, was one of his own kind.

“I haven’t a notion. Tarrou; I assure you I haven’t a notion. When I
entered this profession, I did it ‘abstractedly,’ so to speak; because I had a
desire for it, because it meant a career like another, one that young men
often aspire to. Perhaps, too, because it was particularly difficult for a
workman’s son, like myself. And then I had to see people die. Do you know
that there are some who refuse to die? Have you ever heard a woman
scream ‘Never!’ with her last gasp? Well, I have. And then I saw that 1
could never get hardened to it. I was young then, and I was outraged by the
whole scheme of things , or so I thought. Subsequently I grew more modest.
Only, I’ve never managed to get used to seeing people die, That’s all I
know. Yet after all-”

Rieux fell silent and sat down. He felt his mouth dry.

“After all-?’ Tarrou prompted softly.

” After all, ” the doctor repeated, then hesitated again, fixing his eyes on
Tarrou, “it’s something that a man of your sort can understand most likely,
but, since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for
God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against
death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in

Tarrou nodded.

“Yes. But your victories will never be lasting; that’s all.”

Rieux’s face darkened.

“Yes, I know that. But it’s no reason for giving up the struggle.”

“No reason, I agree. Only, I now can picture what this plague must mean
for you.”

“Yes. A never ending defeat. ”

Tarrou stared at the doctor for a moment, then turned and tramped
heavily toward the door. Rieux followed him and was almost at his side
when Tarrou, who was staring at the floor, suddenly said:

“Who taught you all this, Doctor?”

The reply came promptly:

“Suffering. ”

Rieux opened the door of his surgery and told Tarrou that he, too, was
going out; he had a patient to visit in the suburbs. Tarrou suggested they
should go together and he agreed. In the hall they encountered Mme.
Rieux, and the doctor introduced Tarrou to her.

“A friend of mine,” he said.

“Indeed,” said Mme. Rieux, “I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance.”

When she left them Tarrou turned to gaze after her. On the landing the
doctor pressed a switch to turn on the lights along the stairs. But the stairs
remained in darkness. Possibly some new light-saving order had come into
force. Really, however, there was no knowing; for some time past, in the
streets no less than in private houses, everything had been going out of
order. It might be only that the concierge, like nearly everyone in the town,
was ceasing to bother about his duties. The doctor had no time to follow up
his thoughts; Tarrou’s voice came from behind him.

“Just one word more, Doctor, even if it sounds to you a bit nonsensical.
You are perfectly right. ”

The doctor merely gave a little shrug, unseen in the darkness.
“To tell the truth, all that’s outside my range. But you-what do you
know about it?”

“Ah,” Tarrou replied quite cooUy, “I’ve little left to learn.”

Rieux paused and, behind him, Tarrou’s foot slipped on a step. He
steadied himself by gripping the doctor’s shoulder.

“Do you really imagine you know everything about life?”

The answer came through the darkness in the same cool, confident tone.


Once in the street, they realized it must be quite late, eleven perhaps. AU
was silence in the town, except for some vague rustlings. An ambulance
bell clanged faintly in the distance. They stepped into the car and Rieux
started the engine.

“You must come to the hospital tomorrow,” he said, “for an injection.
But, before embarking on this adventure, you’d better know your chances
of coming out of it alive; they’re one in three.”

“That sort of reckoning doesn’t hold water; you know it, Doctor, as well
as I. A hundred years ago plague wiped out the entire population of a town
in Persia, with one exception. And the sole survivor was precisely the man
whose job it was to wash the dead bodies, and who carried on throughout
the epidemic.”

“He pulled off his one-in-three chances, that’s all.” Rieux had lowered
his voice. “But you’re right; we know next to nothing on the subject.”

They were entering the suburbs. The headlights lit up empty streets. The
car stopped. Standing in front of it, Rieux asked Tarrou if he’d like to come
in. Tarrou said: “Yes.” A glimmer of light from the sky lit up their faces.
Suddenly Rieux gave a short laugh, and there was much friendliness in it.

“Out with it, Tarrou! What on earth prompted you to take a hand in

“I don’t know. My code of morals, perhaps.”

“Your code of morals? What code?”


Tarrou turned toward the house and Rieux did not see his face again until
they were in the old asthma patient’s room.


“Man isn’t an idea, Rambert.”

Rambert sprang off the bed, his face ablaze with passion.

“Man is an idea, and a precious small idea, once he turns his back on
love. And that’s my point; we-mankind-have lost the capacity for love.
We must face that fact, Doctor. Let’s wait to acquire that capacity or, if
really it’s beyond us, wait for the deliverance that will come to each of us
anyway, without his playing the hero. Personally, I look no farther.”

Rieux rose. He suddenly appeared very tired.

“You’re right, Rambert, quite right, and for nothing in the world would I
try to dissuade you from what you’re going to do; it seems to me absolutely
right and proper. However, there’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no
question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an
idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a
plague is: common decency.”

“What do you mean by ‘common decency’?” Rambert’s tone was grave.

“I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that
it consists in doing my job.”

“Your job! I only wish I were sure what my job is!” There was a mordant
edge to Rambert’s voice. “Maybe I’m all wrong in putting love first.”

Rieux looked him in the eyes.

“No,” he said vehemently, “you are not wrong. ”

Rambert gazed thoughtfully at them.

“You two,” he said, “I suppose you’ve nothing to lose in all this. It’s
easier, that way, to be on the side of the angels.”

Rieux drained his glass.

‘Come along,” he said to Tarrou. “We’ve work to do.”

He went out.

Tarrou followed, but seemed to change his mind when he reached the
door. He stopped and looked at the journalist.

“I suppose you don’t know that Rieux’s wife is in a sanatorium, a
hundred miles or so away.”

Rambert showed surprise and began to say something; but Tarrou had
already left the room.

The difference in his old friend’s face shocked him. The smile of
benevolent irony that always played on it had seemed to endow it with
perpetual youth; now, abruptly left out of control, with a trickle of saliva
between the slightly parted lips, it betrayed its age and the wastage of the
years. And, seeing this, Rieux felt a lump come to his throat.

It was’ by such lapses that Rieux could gauge his exhaustion. His
sensibility was getting out of hand. Kept under all the time, it had grown
hard and brittle and seemed to snap completely now and then, leaving him
the prey of his emotions. No resource was left him but to tighten the
stranglehold on his feelings and harden his heart protectively. For he knew
this was,the only way of carrying on. In any case, he had few illusions left,
and fatigue was robbing him of even these remaining few. He knew that,
over a period whose end he could not glimpse, his task was no longer to
cure but to diagnose. To detect, to see, to describe, to register, and then
condemn-that was his present function. Sometimes a woman would
clutch his sleeve, crying shrilly: “Doctor, you’ll save him, won’t you?”
But he wasn’t there for saving life; he was there to order a sick man’s
evacuation. How futile was the hatred he saw on faces then! You haven’t
a heart!” a woman told him on one occasion. She was wrong; he had one: It
saw him through his twenty-hour day, when he hourly watched men dying
who were meant to live. It enabled him to start anew each morning. He had
just enough heart for that, as things were now. How could that heart have
sufficed for saving life?

No it wasn’t medical aid that he dispensed in those crowded days- only information.
Obviously that could hardly be reckoned a man’s job. Yet,
when all was said and done, who, in that terror-stricken, decimated
populace, had scope for any activity worthy of his manhood? Indeed, for
Rieux his exhaustion was a blessing in disguise. Had he been less tired, is
senses more alert, that all-pervading odor of death might have made him
sentimental. But when a man has had only four hours’ sleep, he isn’t
sentimental. He sees things as they are; that is to say, he sees them in the
garish light of justice-hideous, witless justice. And those others, the men
and women under sentence to death, shared his bleak enlightenment.
Before the plague he was welcomed as a savior. He was going to make them
right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm
on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous. Now, on the
contrary, he came accompanied by soldiers, and they had to hammer on the
door with rifle-butts before the family would open it. They would have liked
to drag him, drag the whole human race, with them to the grave. Yes, it was
quite true that men can’t do without their fellow men; that he was as
helpless as these unhappy people and he, too, deserved the same faint thrill
of pity that he allowed himself once he had left them.

Such, anyhow, were the thoughts that in those endless-seeming weeks
ran in the doctor’s mind, along with thoughts about his severance from his
wife. And such, too, were his friends’ thoughts, judging by the look he saw
on their faces. But the most dangerous effect of the exhaustion steadily
gaining on all engaged in the fight against the epidemic did not consist in
their relative indifference to outside events and the feelings of others, but in
the slackness and supineness that they allowed to invade their personal
lives. They developed a tendency to shirk every movement that didn t
seem absolutely necessary or called for efforts that seemed too great to be
worth while. Thus these men were led to break, oftener and oftener, the
rules of hygiene they themselves had instituted, to omit some of the
numerous disinfections they should have practiced, and sometimes to visit
the homes of people suffering from pneumonic plague without taking steps
to safeguard themselves against infection, because they.had been notified
only at the last moment and could not be bothered with returning to a
sanitary service station, sometimes a considerable distance away, to have
the necessary injections. There lay the real danger; for the energy they
devoted to fighting the disease made them all the more liable to it. In short,
they were gambling on their luck, and luck is not to be coerced.

Only then Rieux turned toward him, raising himself with an effort from
the cushion.

“Forgive me, Rambert, only-well, I simply don’t know. But stay with
us if you want to. ” A swerve of the car made him break off. Then, looking
straight in front of him, he said: “For nothing in the world is it worth turning
one’s back on what one loves. Yet that is what I’m doing, though why I do
not know.” He sank back on the cushion. “That’s how it is,” he added
wearily, “and there’s nothing to be done about it. So let’s recognize the fact
and draw the conclusions.”

“What conclusions?”

“Ah,” Rieux said, “a man can’t cure and know at the same time. So let’s
cure as quickly as we can. That’s the more urgent job.”


Toward the close of October Castel’s anti-plague serum was tried for the
first time. Practically speaking, it was Rieux’s last card. If it failed, the
. doctor was convinced the whole town would be at the mercy ‘of the
epidemic, which would either continue its ravages for an unpredictable
period or perhaps die out abruptly of its own accord.

The day before Castel called on Rieux, M. Othon’s son had fallen ill and
all the family had to go into quarantine. Thus the mother, who had only
recently come out of it, found herself isolated once again. In deference to
the official regulations the magistrate had promptly sent for Dr. Rieux the
moment he saw symptoms of the disease in his little boy. Mother and father
were standing at the bedside when Rieux entered the room. The boy was
in the phase of extreme prostration and submitted without a whimper to the
doctor’s examination. When Rieux raised his eyes he saw the magistrate’s
gaze intent on him, and, behind, the mother’s pale face. She was holding a
handkerchief to her mouth, and her big, dilated eyes followed each of the
doctor’s movements.

“He has it, I suppose?” the magistrate asked in a toneless voice.

“Yes.” Rieux gazed down at the child again.

The mother’s eyes widened yet more, but she still said nothing. M.
Othon, too, kept silent for a while before saying in an even lower tone:

“Well, Doctor, we must do as we are told to do.”

Rieux avoided looking at Mme. Othon, who was still holding her
handkerchief to her mouth.

“It needn’t take long,” he said rather awkwardly, “if you’ll let me use
your phone.”

The magistrate said he would take him to the telephone. But before
going, the doctor turned toward Mme. Othon.

“I regret very much indeed, but I’m afraid you’ll have to get your things
ready. You know how it is.”

Mme. Othon seemed disconcerted. She was staring at the floor.

Then, “I understand,” she murmured, slowly nodding her head. “I’ll set
about it at once.”

Before leaving, Rieux on a sudden impulse asked the Othons if there
wasn’t anything they’d like him to do for them. The mother gazed at him in
silence. And now the magistrate averted his eyes.

“No,” he said, then swallowed hard. “But-save my son.”

In the early days a mere formality, quarantine had now been reorganized
by Rieux and Rambert on very strict lines. In particular they insisted on
having members of the family of a patient kept apart. If, unawares, one of
them had been infected, the risks of an extension of the infection must not
be multiplied. Rieux explained this to the magistrate, who signified his
approval of the procedure. Nevertheless, he and his wife exchanged a
glance that made it clear to Rieux how keenly they both felt the separation
thus imposed on them. Mme. Othon and her little girl could be given rooms
in the quarantine hospital under Rambert’s charge. For the magistrate,
however, no accommodation was available except in an isolation camp the
authorities were now installing in the municipal stadium, using tents
supplied by the highway department. When Rieux apologized for the poor
accommodation, M. Othon replied that there was one rule for all alike, and
it was only proper to abide by it.

The boy was taken to the auxiliary hospital and put in a ward often beds
which had formerly been a classroom. After some twenty hours Rieux
became convinced that the case was hopeless. The infection was steadily
spreading, and the boy’s body was putting up no resistance. Tiny,
half-formed, but acutely painful buboes were clogging the joints of the
child’s puny limbs. Obviously it was a losing fight.

Under the circumstances Rieux had no qualms about testing Castel’s
serum on the boy. That night, after dinner, they performed the inoculation,
a lengthy process, without getting the slightest reaction. At daybreak on the
following day they gathered round the bed to observe the effects of this test
inoculation on which so much hung.

The child had come out of his extreme prostration and was tossing about
convulsively on the bed. From four in the morning Dr. Castel and Tarrou
had been keeping watch and noting, stage by stage, the progress and
remissions of the malady, Tarrou’s bulky form was slightly drooping at the
head of the bed, while at its foot, with Rieux standing beside him, Castel
was seated, reading, with every appearance of calm, an old leather-bound
book. One by one, as the light increased in the former classroom, the others
arrived. Paneloux, the first to come, leaned against the wall on the opposite
side of the bed to Tarrou. His face was drawn with grief, and the
accumulated weariness of many weeks, during which he had never spared
himself, had deeply seamed his somewhat prominent forehead. Grand
came next. It was seven 0’clock, and he apologized for being out of breath;
he could only stay a moment, but wanted to know if any definite results had
been observed. Without speaking, Rieux pointed to the child. His eyes
shut, his teeth clenched, his features frozen in an agonized grimace, he was
rolling his head from side to side on the bolster. When there was just light
enough to make out the half-obliterated figures of an equation chalked on a
blackboard that still hung on the wall at the far end of the room, Rambert
entered. Posting himself at the foot of the next bed, he took a package of
cigarettes from his pocket. But after his first glance at the child’s face he put
it back.

From his chair Castel looked at Rieux over his spectacles.

“Any news of his father?”

“No,” said Rieux. “He’s in the isolation camp.”

The doctor’s hands were gripping the rail of the bed, his eyes fixed on the
small tortured body. Suddenly it stiffened, and seemed to give a little at the
waist, as slowly the arms and legs spread out X-wise. From the body, naked
under an army blanket, rose a smell of damp wool and stale sweat. The boy
had gritted his teeth again, Then very gradually he relaxed, bringing his
arms and legs back toward the center of the bed, still without speaking or
opening his eyes, and his breathing seemed to quicken. Rieux looked at
Tarrou, who hastily lowered his eyes.

They had already seen children die-for many months now death had
shown no favoritism -but they had never yet watched a child’s agony
minute by minute, as they had now been doing since daybreak. Needless to
say,the pain inflicted on these innocent victims had always seemed to them
to be what in fact it was: an abominable thing. But hitherto they had felt its
abomination in, so to speak, an abstract way; they had never had to witness
over so long a period the death-throes of an innocent child.

And just then the boy had a sudden spasm, as if something had bitten him
in the stomach, and uttered a long, shrill wail. For moments that seemed
endless he stayed in a queer, contorted position, his body racked by
convulsive tremors; it was as if his frail frame were bending before the
fierce breath of the plague, breaking under the reiterated gusts of fever.
Then the storm-wind passed, there came a lull, and he relaxed a little; the
fever seemed to recede, leaving him gasping for breath on a dank,
pestilential shore, lost in a languor that already looked like death. When for
the third time the fiery wave broke on him, lifting him a little, the child
curled himself up and shrank away to the edge of the bed, as if in terror of
the flames advancing on him, licking his limbs. A moment later, after
tossing his head wildly to and fro, he flung off the blanket. From between
the inflamed eyelids big tears welled up and trickled down the sunken,
leaden-hued cheeks. When the spasm had passed, utterly exhausted,
tensing his thin legs and arms, on which, within forty-eight hours, the flesh
had wasted to the bone, the child lay flat, racked on the rumbled bed, in a
grotesque parody of crucifixion.

Bending, Tarrou gently stroked with his big paw the small face stained
and sweat. Castel had closed his book a few moments before, and
eyes were now fixed On the child. He began to speak, but had to give a
cough before continuing, because his voice rang out so harshly.

“There wasn’t any remission this morning, was there, Rieux?”

Rieux shook his head, adding, however, that the child was putting up
more resistance than one would have expected. Paneloux, who was
slumped against the wall, said in a low voice:

“So if he is to die, he will have suffered longer.”

Light was increasing in the ward, The occupants of the other nine beds
tossing about and groaning, but in tones that seemed deliberately
subdued. Only one, at the far end of the ward, was screaming, or rather
uttering little exclamations at regular intervals, which seemed to convey
surprise more than pain. Indeed, one had the impression that even for the suffers
the frantic terror of the early phase had passed, and there was a
of mournful resignation in their present attitude toward the disease.

Only the child went on fighting with all his little might. Now and then Rieux
took his pulseless because this served any purpose than as an escape
from utter helplessness-and when he closed his eyes, he seemed to feel
mingling with the fever of his own blood. And then, at one with the
tortured child, he struggled to sustain him with all the remaining
his own body. But, linked for a few moments, the rhythms of
heartbeats soon fell apart, the child escaped him, and again he knew his
impotence. Then he released the small, thin wrist and moved back to his

The light on the whitewashed walls was changing from pink to yellow.
waves of another day of heat were beating on the windows. They
hardly heard Grand saying he would comeback as he turned to go. All were
waiting. The child, his eyes still closed; seemed to grow a little calmer. His
claw-like fingers were feebly plucking at the sides of the bed. Then they
rose, scratched at the blanket over his knees, and suddenly he doubled up
his limbs, bringing his thighs above his stomach, and remained quite still.
For the first time he opened his eyes and gazed at Rieux, who was standing
immediately in front of him. In the small face, rigid as a mask of grayish
clay, slowly the lips parted and from them rose a long, incessant scream,
hardly varying with his respiration, and filling the ward with a fierce,
indignant protest, so little childish that it seemed like a collective voice
issuing from all the sufferers there. Rieux clenched his jaws, Tarrou looked
away. Rambert went and stood beside Castel, who closed the book lying on
his knees. Paneloux gazed down at the small mouth, fouled with the sores
of the plague and pouring out the angry death-cry that has sounded through
the ages of mankind. He sank on his knees, and all present found it natural
to hear him say in a voice hoarse but clearly audible across that nameless,
never ending wail:

“My God, spare this child!”

But the wail continued without cease and the other sufferers began to
grow restless. The patient at the far end of the ward, whose little broken
cries had gone on without a break, now quickened their tempo so that9they
flowed together in one unbroken cry, while the others’ groans grew louder.
A gust of sobs swept through the room, drowning Paneloux’s prayer, and
Rieux, who was still tightly gripping the rail of the bed, shut his eyes, dazed
with exhaustion and disgust.

When he opened them again, Tarrou was at his side.

“I must go,” Rieux said. “I can’t bear to hear them any longer.”

But then, suddenly, the other sufferers fell silent. And now the doctor
grew aware that the child’s wail, after weakening more and more, had
fluttered out into silence. Around him the groans began again, but more
faintly, like a far echo of the fight that now was over. For it was over. Castel
had moved round to the other side of the bed and said the end had come. His
mouth still gaping, but silent now, the child was lying among the tumbled
blankets, a small, shrunken form, with the tears still wet on his cheeks.

Paneloux went up to the bed and made the sign of benediction. Then
gathering up his cassock, he walked out by the passage between the beds.

“Will you have to start it all over again?” Tarrou asked Castel.

The old doctor nodded slowly, with a twisted smile.

“Perhaps. After all, he put up a surprisingly long resistance.”

Rieux was already on his way out, walking so quickly and with such a
strange look on his face that Paneloux put out an arm to check him when he
was about to pass him in the doorway.

“Come, Doctor,” he began.

Rieux swung round on him fiercely.

“Ah! That child, anyhow, was innocent, and you know it as well as I

He strode on, brushing past Paneloux, and walked across the school
playground. Sitting on a wooden bench under the dingy, stunted trees, he
wiped off the sweat that was beginning to run into his eyes. He felt like
shouting imprecations-anything to loosen the stranglehold lashing his
heart with steel. Heat was flooding down between the branches of the fig
trees. A white haze, spreading rapidly over the blue of the morning sky,
made the air yet more stifling. Rieux lay back wearily on the bench. Gazing
up at the ragged branches, the shimmering sky, he slowly got back his
breath and fought down his fatigue.

He heard a voice behind him. “Why was there that anger in your voice
just now? What we’d been seeing was as unbearable to me as it was to

Rieux turned toward Paneloux.

“I know. I’m sorry. But weariness is a kind of madness. And there are
times when the only feeling I have is one of mad revolt.”

“I understand,” Paneloux said in a low voice. “That sort of thing is
revolting because it passes our human understanding. But perhaps we
should love what we cannot understand.”

Rieux straightened up slowly. He gazed at Paneloux, summoning to his
gaze all the strength and fervor he could muster against his weariness. Then
he shook his head.

“No, Father, I’ve a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I
shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture. ”

Discussion Questions:

1. Who do you relate to more – Rieux or Tarrou? Why?

2. Explain Rieux’s statement that ‘weariness is a kind of madness’. How does this
relate to your own life as a future physician?

3. What does the quote ‘Man is an idea’ mean to you?


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