Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bernard Rieux (behr-NAHR ryew), a physician and surgeon in Oran, Algeria, where a plague is claiming as many as three hundred lives a day. Dr. Rieux, a thirty-five-year-old man of great patience, fortitude, and unselfishness, represents the medical profession during the long siege of disease and deaths that strikes rich and poor alike and from which there is no reprieve. The plague means failure to Rieux because he can find no cure or relief for the sufferers. His attitude is characterized by his regard for his fellow people and his inability to cope with injustice and compromise. Very much involved with humankind, he explains that he is able to continue working with the plague-stricken population only because he has found that abstraction is stronger than happiness. He is identified at the end of the book as the narrator of the story, and his account gives the pestilence the attributes of a character, the antagonist. Events of the plague are secondary to philosophies as he pictures the people’s reactions, individually and collectively, to their plight. These run the range of emotions and rationality: escape, guilt, a spirit of lawlessness, pleasure, and resistance. During the plague, individual destinies become collective destinies because the plague and emotions are shared by all. Love and friendship fade because they ask something of the future, and the plague leaves only present moments. As the...
(The entire section is 997 words.)
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Critics have different perceptions of the characters in The Plague. O'Brien limits them to three: the plague, the city, and the narrator. Others see them as stereotypes in a kind of morality play. None is Camus, but all are a part of him. All are dominated by one passion, which is their attitude toward the plague. Although the accusation that he created shadowy figures and symbols may be true, Camus has the talent to portray a person in a few lines, often in a few words.
Rambert, the journalist who is caught in Oran by accident, is separated by the irony of fate from the woman for whom he lives, recalling Camus's own separation from his wife during the war. He is impatient for happiness, wants to escape, but finally realizes that he must stay. Joseph Grand, who continually rewrites the same sentence, incarnates the artistic sense of the work, according to Fitch. He is also a sensitive, steadfast worker, and represents the virtue of quiet patience that Camus admired and becomes a modern nonhero, who is barely distinguishable from the crowd. The severe Father Paneloux, in life and in death, is a "doubtful case," and is as critic Jean Onimus writes, a "tragic Christian," one who sees the God of vengeance rather than the God of mercy.
Tarrou and Rieux, whose accounts of the plague form the basis of the narrative, are perhaps two sides of the same person. Tarrou is more complex, an anguished person in the tradition of Pascal and Kierkegaard....
(The entire section is 322 words.)
The asthma patient receives regular visits from Dr. Rieux. He is a seventy-five-year-old Spaniard with a rugged face, who comments on events in Oran that he hears about on the radio and in the newspapers.
Dr. Castel is one of Rieux’s medical colleagues and is much older than Rieux. He realizes after the first few cases that the disease is bubonic plague and is aware of the seriousness of the situation. He labors hard to make an anti-plague serum, but as the epidemic continues, he shows increasing signs of wear and tear.
Cottard lives in the same building as Grand. He does not appear to have a job, although he describes himself as “a traveling salesman in wines and spirits.” Cottard is an eccentric figure, silent and secretive, who tries to hang himself in his room. Afterwards, he does not want to be interviewed by the police, since he has committed a crime in the past and fears arrest.
Cottard’s personality changes after the outbreak of plague. Whereas he was aloof and mistrustful before, he now becomes agreeable and tries hard to make friends. He appears to relish the coming of the plague, and Tarrou thinks this is because he finds it easier to live with his own fears now that everyone else is in a state of fear, too. Cottard takes advantage of the crisis to make money by selling contraband cigarettes and inferior liquor.
When the epidemic...
(The entire section is 2013 words.)