Who is the narrator of The Plague? Support your case with evidence from the book.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator of Camus' The Plague is Dr. Rieux. Although he states this directly only at the end of the novel, there are some hints that foreshadow the final revelation. In the exposition developed by Rieux as the unnamed first-person narrator, he does two interesting things to foreshadow his disclosure while setting up the narratorial point of view.

One is that he promises to reveal the identity of the narrator in "due course": "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 ... closely involved [him] in all that he proposes to narrate."

The other is that he, as the narrator, includes himself in the community of Oran; he's not an outsider. He does this by using first and second person plural (e.g., we, us) and possessive and reflexive pronouns (e.g., our, yourself).

The foreshadowing techniques allow Rieux to develop himself as a narrator who is there, who is personally involved in events, having first-hand knowledge of them, before he discloses his identity. His commitment to facts and truth also casts him as an objective narrator with "justification for playing the part of a historian."

The language he used was that of a man who ... had resolved ... to have no truck with injustice and compromises with the truth.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the end of The Plague, Rieux reveals himself to be the narrator of the novel. Unlike a typical first-person narrator, Rieux refers to both himself and others in third person. This technique allows him to give a more objective account, as if he is offering a testimonial on the crisis rather than merely expressing his personal feelings or drawing assumptions about others' reactions and motives. To present a balanced portrayal of the events that occur during the plague, Rieux  also refers to details that another character, Tarou, records in his diary.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team