Summary of Part Five
The people are cautious about celebrating the end of the plague at first, not wanting to be surprised if it comes back. Castel's anti-plague serum is now successful, but in truth, the plague was just leaving as mysteriously as it came. Only one person is upset by the end of the plague—Cottard. Tarrou's journal ends with speculations on Cottard and other people, like the modest Madame Rieux, the doctor's kind mother. She is simple, silent, and good, while Cottard turns violent when the police finally turn their attention on him. He shoots a gun from his window and is dragged away by the police. When Tarrou comes down with the plague, just as it is leaving, Madame Rieux insists on nursing him. Tarrou dies with courage, smiling at his loving friends who watch him. Rieux weeps. But that is not all; he also receives word of his wife's death. All he has is the silent and strong love and support of his mother to see him through this.
The gates of the town open, and there are celebrations. Those separated are reunited. Rambert's wife comes from Paris. All return to their personal lives, as though they triumphed over the plague, but the narrator gives the victory to the plague. The survivors are in denial that the plague killed them like flies. Finally the narrator admits he is Dr. Rieux, and he kept his identity quiet until now because he was trying to be objective. His heart, however, always took the part of the victims and tried to share with them their love, exile, and suffering. He watches the town celebrations and fireworks from a balcony, reflecting on the fact that he writes the story as a memorial to the people who died of plague. They were not saints, but they did not bow to the plague and actually tried to be healers.
Commentary on Part Five
Again, the characters are contrasted for their humane or selfish emotions. Cottard does not want anyone else besides himself to live and thrive. He aids and abets the plague, while Grand, Tarrou, Rieux, and even Rambert try to aid the common good.
Though the narrator does not give the victory to humans in terms of winning against the death sentence over them, they win in terms of their moral victory of attempting to go beyond their limitations and actually be healers. Rieux lost a lot of patients but without his fight for the people, it might have been worse. He writes his story in tribute to his fellow humans: “there are more things to admire in men than to despise” (p. 308). This is the clear-eyed affirmation he can give, what he saw himself, without recourse to doctrines or beliefs.
Text: Camus, Albert, The Plague, translated by Stuart Gilbert, Vintage International Books, 1991.