As Albert Camus’s The Plague reaches its conclusion, the identity of “the narrator” is finally revealed: “THIS chronicle is drawing to an end, and this seems to be the moment for Dr. Bernard Rieux to confess that he is the narrator.”
Dr. Bernard Rieux is the narrator of Camus’s classic of existential literature. That Rieux does not identify himself as such until the story’s ending, however, does leave the reader a bit of a mystery that might not have been worth considering had Camus not devoted so much effort to drawing one’s attention to that otherwise omniscient third-person character. Early in The Plague, Camus draws his narrator into the story in a way that strongly suggests an individual of considerable technical proficiency and scientific rigor. Note in the following passage from early in the novel the author’s presentation of this element of his narrative:
In any case the narrator (whose identity will be made known in due course) would have little claim to competence for a task like this, had not chance put him in the way of gathering much information, and had he not been, by the force of things, closely involved in all that he proposes to narrate. This is his justification for playing the part of a historian. Naturally, a historian, even an amateur, always has data, personal or at second hand, to guide him. The present narrator has three kinds of data: first, what he saw himself; secondly, the accounts of other eyewitnesses (thanks to the part he played, he was enabled to learn their personal impressions from all those figuring in this chronicle); and, lastly, documents that subsequently came into his hands.
This lengthy passage is included here for a reason: It is necessary to inform the reader of the narrator’s professional approach to the subject at hand, the outbreak of bubonic plague in a French-occupied Algerian town and the way in which the town’s various occupants respond to the deadly crisis. The language employed is formal and indicative of someone with a formal education in the scientific and investigatory realm—in other words, forensic pathology or anthropology. The narrator, however, deliberately diverts attention from himself by following the above passage with this:
When leaving his surgery on the morning of April 16, Dr. Bernard Rieux felt something soft under his foot. It was a dead rat lying in the middle of the landing.
So, early in and throughout The Plague, Dr. Rieux’s role as narrator is distorted by his dispassionate approach to his chosen field of study: medicine. When drafting highly technical medical findings, such an approach is normal, with emphasis placed on scientific rigor and fealty to objective analyses. For the purposes of answering the student’s question, then, regarding the identity of the narrator and evidence for this conclusion, one need only refer to the Dr. Rieux’s belated decision to reveal that he himself served that function.