The Plague: Characters
Dr. Castel is an older doctor and colleague of Dr. Rieux in Oran. He, like Rieux, is separated from his wife during the plague. He devotes himself to the plague and keeps experimenting with an anti-plague serum. He is the only doctor with experience since he encountered the plague in China. His serum eventually begins to work after many failures.
Cottard lives in Grand's apartment building and was found by Grand trying to hang himself. He seems to have wanted to be found, because he wrote in red chalk on his door that he was hanging himself. He lives and is treated by Dr. Rieux. Cottard is afraid of the police, and it is clear he is running from some crime. He is happy about the plague that takes attention off him and gives him a chance to make money from smuggling in goods. He is connected to the underworld and tries to help the reporter, Rambert, to escape. Cottard is cornered by police after the plague subsides, and he shoots it out with them from his window. He is last seen being dragged away.
Garcia is a smuggler, one of the underground figures Cottard introduces Rambert to in his attempt to find an escape route.
Grand is the old, thin public clerk who becomes a friend of Rieux and Tarrou. He is shy and reclusive. He lost his wife because he could not speak to her about his affection. He tries to overcome his inability to express himself by writing a love novel but never gets past the first sentence that he revises over and over again, trying to make it perfect. Grand is a good, gentle person and keeps track of the plague statistics and records. When he comes down with the plague, he is able to recover because the plague is on the wane. He is an example of a good neighbor and friend, but he exemplifies the difficulties of communication in human relationships.
Monsieur Michel is the concierge or building manager for Rieux's apartment. He is one of the first to find the dead rats and to die of the plague. Rieux attends him and realizes what this death means.
Monsieur Othon is the magistrate or judge. He is just one of the officials until he is personally affected by the plague. It is his little boy that dies the horrible death, watched closely by Rieux and his associates. When Othon is quarantined to a camp for the poor in the football stadium, he becomes its manager. After his son's death and his release, he decides to go back to the camp for the poor voluntarily to serve. He eventually loses his life to the plague while fighting it.
Jacques Othon, the son of the police magistrate, is the little boy who dies of the plague. He is given Dr. Castel's serum in the hopes that it will cure him. As Rieux, the doctors, Father Paneloux, and Tarrou watch, the boy's painful death is prolonged from the serum. His death and Rieux's inability to help him is an emotional crisis for Rieux, and for the priest, Father Paneloux. The terrible death of a child does not demonstrate a loving God to the onlookers.
Father Paneloux is the eloquent Jesuit priest who makes brilliant sermons, but his attempts to preach about the plague are failures. The first sermon is the standard response: the plague is a punishment for sins. The second sermon after the shocking death of the child is more honest. Paneloux admits how hard it is to be a Christian seeing children suffer. He calls it a test in the faith of God. He falls ill, perhaps a psychosomatic illness, and dies, trying to show that he believes in divine justice, no matter what.
All are changed by the plague, but Raymond Rambert, the reporter from Paris trapped in Oran during the plague, is the most noteworthy change, converted from his selfish view to a humanitarian response to the crisis. He goes through stages of transformation. First, outrage and denial lead him to visit officials proclaiming his innocence and the fact that it is an accident, not his fault, that he is in Oran. He demands his rights. Then he turns to the underground to find criminal help in escaping the gates. Finally, he agrees to help Rieux part-time as he waits for his chance. At last, on the verge of escape, he renounces that as a cowardly path and vows to take the more noble way of helping the people of Oran. Originally, he declared the love for his wife to be more important than the plague. Later, he gives up his personal needs for the greater good. Eventually, he lives to be reunited with his wife.
Dr. Richard is the chairman of the local Medical Association in Oran, reluctant to declare the plague, passing the responsibility to the Prefect. One of the team of doctors trying to contain the plague, he himself is carried off by it.
Dr. Bernard Rieux
Dr. Bernard Rieux is the primary witness and narrator of the story about how bubonic plague devastated the town of Oran, Algeria. He does not reveal that he is the narrator until the end. He presents himself in the third person as a character, trying, he says, to be objective. His objectivity and understatement make the plague even more horrible. Rieux is well known and respected by everyone, from the officials to the poor. He attends cases at the hospital and makes visits to homes in both rich and poor districts. A man of humane and tender heart, he nevertheless steels himself to stoicism to deal with the plague. He has to fight despair, for all his patients die, and fatigue, as he works around the clock with little sleep for months. Rieux is revealed to be clear-sighted without illusions. He notes the stages of human response to such a calamity, from fear and superstition, to denial and attempts to escape. He does not give in to Rambert's plea for a special certificate. Rieux does not believe in special favors or lies. He also does not set himself up as an expert with answers, but humbly says he works in the dark trying to save as many as possible. Rieux is in love with his wife, but he does not try to escape to visit her in her mountain sanitarium while she is dying, though he feels he might have helped her recover. Not a judgmental man, he befriends everyone from Cottard, the criminal, to the self-effacing Grand and Rambert, who tries to escape through bribes. Rieux is a realist and does not romanticize or philosophize. He believes in taking action, even if it does not seem to make a difference to the outcome. Human love and decency, however, do make a difference to him.
Madame Rieux is the mother of Bernard Rieux, coming to stay with him when his wife leaves for the sanitarium in the mountains for a cure of her illness. She arrives at the start of the plague and stays for the duration. Jean Tarroueventually sees Madame Rieux and Bernard Rieux as the humans closest to moral perfection he can find. Madame Rieux has so much goodness of heart, he claims, that she triumphs over the plague. This is a prophetic remark, for she nurses Tarrou when he falls sick and is there at his deathbed. He is comforted by her efficiency, silence, and resignation. She demonstrates human dignity that cannot be destroyed by evil. She is the only one alive to give him comfort after the plague leaves, as his wife and friend and half the town have died.
Jean Tarrou is a stocky young man, a visitor to Oran staying in Rieux's building. The narrator (Rieux) refers to Tarrou's journal frequently during the story, one of the eyewitness accounts of the plague. Tarrou's journal seems eccentric because he observes details of ordinary and uninteresting events and people. He writes queries and tries to answer them. He is on a sort of quest to find a way to be at peace with himself and fellow humans. He studies people and thinks a lot about the meaning of life. Eventually Tarrou and Rieux become close friends, thinking alike about the absurd nature of existence. Tarrou is fleeing from conventional society and his family where his father is the prosecuting attorney in a court that condemns prisoners to death. Tarrou argues that the state has no right over the lives of citizens and that the real “plague” is the evil of human violence. He studies his friend Rieux as the example of an authentic person who lives only according to the dictates of his own conscience. Rieux is neither a victim nor a pestilence but a healer trying his best to bring relief to others, yet he is not being good out of religious belief, only from a love of humanity. Tragically, Tarrou dies of the plague just as it is leaving town. He demonstrates his personal growth by dying with courage and peace of mind, and fully aware.