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The Plague by Albert Camus: Characters

Instructor: Sharon Linde
As the name implies, The Plague is a serious novel featuring death and disease. It has a large cast of characters that each contribute to the storyline. This lesson discusses these characters and their role in the story while giving you a bit of context about the novel.

The Plague - Summary

Imagine a disease descends on your town and people begin dying quickly and in large numbers. What would officials do to help keep the disease from spreading? What if the solution was to put a stop to all travel in and out of the city? This is the basic plot of The Plague, a novel by Albert Camus that was published in 1947, as officials put a quarantine on the city. As the plague ravages Oran, a city in Algeria, people deal with the struggle of the plague and quarantine.

Characters in The Plague

Camus tells the story of The Plague through many characters. As you would imagine in a city under quarantine, the characters struggle with many issues and reveal who they are through their thoughts and actions.

Townspeople

Dr. Bernard Rieux. Dr. Rieux acts as the book's narrator, the person who tells the story. A morally upright character, Dr. Rieux is frustrated with how slowly city officials move to react to the plague. He is separated from his wife due to the quarantine but doesn't let this sadness affect his work. Dr. Rieux is a firsthand witness to the actions of humans in the face of tragedy. Though Rieux does not believe in God, he reflects at the end of the book that there is more good than bad in humanity, even though many have perished.

Cottard. Cottard is one of the more sinister characters. A former criminal who lived in fear of being found out, he is glad when the plague and quarantine happen because everyone's focus is on the plague. He doesn't help with the plague in any way; instead he works in a smuggling business to make money off others' hardship. He attempts suicide at the beginning of the novel, and the end of the plague finds him back to his paranoid self as he slowly loses grip on reality and is arrested for shooting into a crowd.

Joseph Grand. Grand is a neighbor of Cottard and summons Dr. Rieux to help during the early suicide attempt. Grand is written as an old man who is afraid to fully live life. His clothes are too big, he didn't ask for promotions, his wife leaves him, and he can't find the words to send a letter to get her back. He wants to write a novel but has only written the first line. Beneath this humdrum and woe, however, is a character that helps during the plague in a quiet way. He catches the plague but lives; this experience changes him and we find him sending the letter to his wife at the end.

Dr. Castel. An older colleague of Dr. Rieux, Dr. Castel figures out the plague is actually the bubonic plague , a common but deadly form of plague, and works to find a cure. The two doctors also join forces to push the city along when it doesn't move quickly enough to contain the disease. The character of Dr. Castel is minor; he seems to age as the book continues.

Dr. Richard. Yes, another doctor! This one isn't such a smarty as the other two. As the person in charge of medicine in Oran he drags his feet when Dr. Rieux and Dr. Castel tell him the town has the bubonic plague. Instead of acting quickly he wants to wait it out and not get the city upset.

The Orthons. M. Orthon, a judge in Oran, lives with his little boy Jacques. At the start of the book he is mean and cruel to his family. After young Jacques dies of the plague and M. Orthon is forced to spend time in a quarantined area he becomes more likable, eventually wanting to help out. Sadly he dies of the plague as well.

Father Paneloux. This larger than life character is a Jesuit priest who offers support and confusion to the people of Oran. He gives a powerful sermon about the plague, claiming it is a sign of contempt and punishment from God. Later he changes his mind and claims the plague is a test God sent to his flock. Father Paneloux contracts the plague, refuses to be treated, and dies.

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