*Oran. Algerian port city on the Mediterranean Sea. From its opening paragraphs, The Plague calls attention to the banality, even the ugliness, of the Algerian city in which the events that Rieux chronicles take place. Though the real Oran, where Camus, a native of Algeria, lived from 1941-1942, was not nearly so bleak, Rieux’s city is an ugly, soulless place devoid of trees, pigeons, and gardens and grimly devoted to commerce. Unlike the historical Oran, Rieux’s version is secured by municipal gates, and the official opening of the ramparts at the end of the novel is celebrated by the inhabitants as a kind of liberation.
In the 1940’s, before an anticolonial insurrection brought it independence in 1962, Algeria still constituted part of France, and the relatively large percentage of Oranians of European descent regarded their town as a provincial outpost of French culture. Yet Raymond Rambert, a journalist on assignment from a Parisian newspaper, feels particularly frustrated at being stranded by the local epidemic in distant Oran.
Almost all Camus’s writing accentuates the presence of the sea, the sun, and the sky. Yet, in The Plague, Oran is described as having been built with its back to the sea, without easy access to the cleansing Mediterranean, even under ordinary circumstances. The city’s segregation from the sea is reinforced when, as part of the quarantine, residents are prohibited from wandering to the harbor, and it is a particularly dramatic moment of release when, exhausted by their efforts to contain the plague, Rieux and Jean Tarrou defy regulations and sneak off for a brief, exhilarating swim in the sea.
Rieux’s description of Oran is not very specific, and its majority Muslim population remains invisible. A desolate city of the existential imagination, the quarantined Oran of The Plague functions as an archetype of modern urban anonymity, an arena in which solitary individuals pursue their absurd struggles.
Rieux’s residence (ree-YEW). Rooms in which Rieux lives. After his wife departs for a sanatorium out of town, Rieux’s mother moves in to help him. Several of the novel’s characters, including Tarrou, Cottard, and Rambert, come to speak with Rieux here. Before the plague, which finally kills him, is officially declared, Monsieur Michel, the concierge, spots a dead rat in the building.
Rue Faidherbe (rew fehd-ehrb). House on the third floor in which Cottard, who makes personal profit out of the general misfortune by trading on the black market, lives. It is in the same apartment that, at the beginning of the novel, Cottard attempts to hang himself and at the end dies resisting arrest. Living in a nearby apartment and struggling through numerous revisions of a sentence he composes is the municipal clerk, Joseph Grand.
Football stadium. Makeshift quarantine center in which Oranians who have been diagnosed with the plague are involuntarily assembled and isolated from the rest of the population. In keeping with Camus’s own reading of the novel as an allegory of resistance against Nazi occupation, the football stadium has been interpreted as analogous to the European concentration camps.
Cathedral. Prodded into piety by the imminence of death, an unusually large number of Oranians congregate here for High Mass on the Sunday concluding the Week of Prayer proclaimed during the first month of the epidemic. It is in the cathedral that Father Paneloux delivers each of his two crucial sermons, in books 2 and 4 of the novel.
Municipal opera house
Municipal opera house. Night after night, a touring company, trapped in Oran by the quarantine, performs the same work, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). On the Friday evening that Rieux and Tarrou happen to go to the opera house together, the singer playing Orfeo dies suddenly, on stage, of the plague.
The term absurdism is applied to plays and novels that express the idea that there is...
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