“Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves” (I, p. 37)
The narrator, Rieux, comments on how rationality does not rule the day. What is absurd or stupid often happens, but still humans are surprised because they are not paying attention to what is going on around them.
“They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences” (I, p. 37).
The narrator notes death and calamity take away human free will because they descend arbitrarily.
“Once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat” (II, p. 67).
A typical human defense is to think the other person has bad luck or a bad situation, but that it does not apply to oneself. Once the town gates are shut, the people are locked in with the plague and share the same fate and altered circumstances.
“Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile” (II, p. 71).
Though the people are in the same boat, they are not in the same place. Families are separated as some fall sick, some are sent to quarantine camps, and some are in hospitals or at home. People inside the town are separated from those outside. Loneliness increases as death separates loved ones forever.
“. . . our townsfolk . . . persist[ed] in the idea that what was happening was a sort of accident, disagreeable enough, but certainly of a temporary order” (II, p. 79).
The narrator notes the early stage of denial in the people who think this blip will soon disappear. In truth it lasts for a year and wipes out half the people.
“'In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground. But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure'” (II, p. 121).
This is an observation from Tarrou's journal about the response of people as the plague is prolonged. Few feel religion will help and want to get the last few drops of pleasure out of life before they die. The extreme conditions make the platitudes of religion seem weak.
“During all the late summer and throughout the autumn there could daily be seen moving along the road skirting the cliffs above the sea a strange procession of passengerless streetcars . . . laden with flowers and corpses” (III, p. 178).
As the plague escalates, there is no time for funerals or mass burials, so the corpses are taken to a crematorium in streetcars.
“. . .they had adapted themselves to the very condition of the plague, all the more potent for its mediocrity. None of us was capable any longer of an exalted emotion” (III, p. 181).
The spectacle of death becomes so commonplace that there cannot be the wild or tragic emotions one usually associates with grief and parting. People are numb.
“For it's common knowledge that you can't trust your neighbor; he may pass the disease to you without your knowing it” (IV, p. 199).
Friendship becomes impossible, and suspicion of others heightened because of the disease. This increases isolation and exile.
[the singer playing Orpheus] stagger[ed] grotesquely to the footlights, his arms and legs splayed out under his antique robe . . . the crowd stampeded toward the exit” (IV, p. 201).
Tarrou goes to the opera to hear Gluck's Orpheus. The rich society people have the feeling they will be safe from the plague there. When Orpheus dies on stage, the crowd leaves in a hurry. There is a bit of black humor with Orpheus, the mythical hero who was supposed to conquer death with his music, as the victim of plague. This scene recalls Poe's short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”
The Plague: Top Ten Quotes