Summary of Part Three
By the end of the summer, “No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all” (p. 167). People are forced into acknowledging their common humanity. They share a sense of exile, fear, and rebellion. Rambert, however, still acts as though he has free choice.
The plague attacks the business district. People returning from quarantine begin to set their houses on fire to clear the remains of pestilence. There are attacks of plague on groups of people, such as monks, nuns, prisoners, and soldiers. There is violence at the gates of the town. The authorities declare martial law and establish curfew. Funerals and burials are quick without church services. When there is a shortage of coffins, funerals are combined and bodies thrown into pits with quicklime. Many of the service workers die too, but more volunteers take their places. Finally, the dead are sent to crematoriums via special death streetcars.
Those alive are wasting away physically and emotionally. They can hardly remember the ones they loved. There are no exalted emotions now “in the twilight of our minds” (p. 181). Suddenly, there is no personal grief; people merely survive. The narrator strives to be objective, but people themselves leave no particular impression on him: “plague had leveled out discrimination” (p. 184). Love has become “an inert mass within us” (p. 184).
Commentary on Part Three
As the plague progresses and the deaths rise, the people are more alone, in perpetual exile from one another and without love or hope. They cease to be human as individuals and melt into one mass of suffering humanity. Although this level of suffering is extreme, the narrator seems to be saying that this is the state of the human race in the abstract. Under constant threat of death and separation, they can only use their energy for survival.
Camus throws in some grim humor, as when the military is perplexed on how to keep hierarchy going within the ranks, usually done by giving medals and promotion for extraordinary behavior, but now they are reduced to calling them “plague medals” given to soldiers for doing their duty. They have to be awarded posthumously and obviously mean nothing. Similarly, at first during the mass burials, the officials bury female and male corpses separately to preserve modesty until they realize under quicklime, there is no sexual difference.
Text: Camus, Albert, The Plague, translated by Stuart Gilbert, Vintage International Books, 1991.