The Plague

The Plague Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Oran, a North African French town, during an unspecified year in the 1940s

Narrator and Point of View

First-person omniscient; a narrator who uses his own observations, the accounts of others, and documentary accounts

Tone and Mood

Tone: direct, objective, detached, foreboding, calm

Mood: confining, drained, futile, restless, fatalistic

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Rieux, and all the townspeople. Antagonist: The Plague.

Major Conflict

Will the plague ever abate from the town of Oran? Will the main characters emerge unscathed?


The novel reaches its climax with the death of the young Othon boy, which is a prolonged and horrific moment of crisis for Rieux, Paneloux, and Tarrou.


1. Camus foreshadows the coming plague with the odd signs that predate it, such as the dead rats.
2. Cottard's odd comments like "He's a nice fellow, and he'd make a good witness" (54) foreshadow our eventual knowledge of his criminal past.
3. When Tarrou writes in his diary, "Feeling very tired tonight" (281), which foreshadows his illness.


1. "What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty one may experience there in dying" (5).
2. "Ah, so this gentleman's in business too?" (The barkeeper uses this understatement when asking Cottard about Rambert; "business" is an understated way to refer to smuggling.)
3. "It's high time it stopped" (181). (This is what the townspeople say of the plague that is destroying their lives.)


1. Procopius (38): a Byzantine scholar and major historian of his era born around 500 CE and who lived in eastern Roman Empire
2. Stigmata (90): the marks left on Jesus' body after the Crucifixion; when they supposedly appear, they are signs of divine favor or power
3. Exodus and the plague of Egypt (95): the biblical story of the Jews, the chosen people, who were saved from the ravages of the plague through God's favor
4. The Golden Legend (96): a medieval collection of hagiographies written by Jacobus de Varagine
5. Joan of Arc (150): a medieval French peasant girl who believed she had divine favor, and who was a war hero and a martyr and later canonized as a saint
6. Orpheus and Eurydice (200): the Greek myth of Orpehus, who traveled to the underworld to retrieve his love Eurydice


The most potent imagery is of the plague as a sentient being, stalking the populace and affecting every aspect of their lives. Camus also uses imagery to depict how hellish a place Oran is to live during the plague—unrelentingly hot, windy, stormy, and barren—and how painful the disease is for the sufferers—such as with the Othon boy's drawn-out death scene.


1. Father Paneloux says in his sermon, "This same pestilence which is slaying you works for your good and points your path" (98).
2. Rambert tells Riieux that "your victories will never be lasting" and Rieux admits he knows that but "it's no reason for giving up the struggle" (128).
3. Tarrou wonders, "Can one be a saint without God?" (255).


There can be parallels between the spread of fascism and the spread of the plague (according to some critics); this is observable in how it starts off small, affects anyone and nearly everyone, is insidious and impossible to rout out, etc.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



1. "All we may regret is the town's being so disposed that it turns its back on the bay..." (6).
2. "Stupidity has a knack of getting its way" (37).
3. "The only hope was that the outbreak would die a natural death" (60).
4. "...they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it" (72).
5. "...all testified that commerce, too, had died of plague" (77).
6. "Gray with dust, the palms and fig trees drooped despondently around a statue of the Republic" (86).
7. "...he was still listening to that eerie sound above, the whispering of the plague."
8. "The sun stalked our townsfolk along every byway, into every nook; and when they paused, it struck" (111).
9. " is as if for a while plague stays its hand and takes breath" (118).
10. "Small fleecy clouds, which presently the sun would swallow up at a gulp, were drifting across the sky" (150).
11. "...when they least expect it plague may lay its cold hand on their shoulders" (199).
12. "We had seen it [the plague] walking at our side, or waiting for our coming at the places where we worked" (222).