The Plague

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Father Paneloux Character Analysis

A Jesuit priest and scholar of St. Augustine. When the plague arrives Paneloux preaches a sermon about how it is a punishment sent by God. After watching the death of an innocent child, Paneloux’s faith is shaken, and he delivers a second, more desperate sermon and then succumbs to an unknown illness.

Father Paneloux Quotes in The Plague

The The Plague quotes below are all either spoken by Father Paneloux or refer to Father Paneloux. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Plague published in 1991.
Part 2 Quotes

“If today the plague is in your midst, that is because the hour has struck for taking thought. The just man need have no fear, but the evildoer has good cause to tremble. For plague is the flail of God and the world His threshing-floor, and implacably He will thresh out His harvest until the wheat is separated from the chaff.”

Related Characters: Father Paneloux (speaker)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, an authority figure, a priest named Father Paneloux, tries to offer the people of Oran comfort and reassurance in the face of the plague. Paneloux offers a rather frustrating "explanation" for the plague: it's a punishment from God. Those who are good and moral have nothing to fear from the disease (or from dying from it, as they will be rewarded with Heaven); those who are wicked, however, are either dead and in Hell already, or will soon be.

Paneloux's sermon is indicative of the kind of reasoning that many religions use to offer comfort to their followers. Life is full of pain and chaos, we know--religion tells us that we can overcome chaos by being righteous, pious people, or by following a set of rules or beliefs. Paneloux's speech doesn't offer any concrete reassurances or comforts: instead, he offers the "comfort" of meaning. The simple fact is that the plague has no meaning--and that is its true horror. Paneloux tries to swap morality for meaninglessness--a futile but perhaps heroic struggle. In the face of an indifferent, destructive world, humans try to tell stories to make themselves feel better--religion may be the best story of all.

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Part 4 Quotes

“I understand,” Paneloux said in a low voice. “That sort of thing is revolting because it passes our human understanding. But perhaps we should love what we cannot understand.”
Rieux straightened up slowly…
“No, Father. I’ve a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture.”

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), Father Paneloux (speaker)
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

How should human beings react when evil things happen to good people--when, for instance, innocent children die of a horrible disease? For Camus, there are a couple different responses. One potential response is represented in the character of Father Paneloux, the priest who urges his followers to accept the plague as God's punishment. Paneloux's ideas are characteristic of many organized religions, which accept that evil and suffering are just part of God's plan--i.e., pain is, in the long term, "good."

Camus--and the character whose beliefs are closest to his own, Dr. Rieux--refuses to celebrate or love a God who allows children to die in pain. Camus has some respect for Paneloux, because--just like everybody else in the novel--he tries to find meaning in a meaningless world. And yet Paneloux seems rather cowardly in the way he accepts pain, rather than fighting back against it. Rieux tries to fight the plague, rather than accept it, as Paneloux seems to do.

Tarrou, when told by Rieux what Paneloux had said, remarked that he’d known a priest who had lost his faith during the war, as the result of seeing a young man’s face with both eyes destroyed.
“Paneloux is right,” Tarrou continued. “When an innocent youth can have his eyes destroyed, a Christian should either lose his faith or consent to having his eyes destroyed. Paneloux declines to lose his faith, and he will go through with it to end. That’s what he meant to say.”

Related Characters: Jean Tarrou (speaker), Dr. Bernard Rieux, Father Paneloux
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

As Father Paneloux spends more time among the plague-ridden community he finds it harder and harder to continue being religious. Paneloux tells his followers that they must embrace the plague as a part of God's plan. But as Paneloux sees untold horrors--particularly the death of M. Othon's young son--he finds it increasingly difficult to accept this worldview, and he seems to have doubts about the very existence of God. Yet Paneloux continues to believe in God, or at least praise him in public.

Here, Tarrou and Rieux discuss Paneloux's faith, and agree that he has come to an impasse. In the face of such meaningless suffering, the Christian can only deny nothing or deny everything--and Paneloux is afraid to deny everything. Thus he clings ever harder to his desperate trust in God, choosing to believe that even the plague is part of a larger "plan." Paneloux even refuses to call a doctor when he gets sick, sticking to his principles in the face of reality. Tarrou and Rieux actually admire this stubbornness, even though it leads to Paneloux's death, and he may have led others "astray" with his sermons, because Paneloux at least stuck with his beliefs "to the end."

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Father Paneloux Character Timeline in The Plague

The timeline below shows where the character Father Paneloux appears in The Plague. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
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Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...however, Dr. Rieux sees M. Michel looking very sickly and being escorted home by Father Paneloux, a Jesuit priest. Rieux briefly examines M. Michel and finds that he is feverish and... (full context)
Part 2
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After a month of plague, Father Paneloux declares he will deliver a sermon on the subject. The town has grown more pious... (full context)
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Soon after Father Paneloux’s sermon summer descends on Oran with scorching heat and a sharp increase in the number... (full context)
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...considered the dangers of such work. Tarrou responds by asking what Rieux thought of Father Paneloux’s sermon. Rieux says he hates the idea of “collective punishment.” The plague can sometimes make... (full context)
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...then asks Dr. Rieux if he believes in God, and Rieux answers by saying that Paneloux is a man of learning, separated from real suffering and death, so he has the... (full context)
Part 4
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...a quarantine camp, but he accepts the rule of the rest of the public. Father Paneloux (who has joined the sanitation league) joins the vigil and he, Rieux, Castel, Grand, and... (full context)
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...he finally expires “in a grotesque parody of crucifixion” as the men watch in horror. Paneloux cries out to God to save the child, but in vain. As he leaves the... (full context)
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Outside the hospital Paneloux talks to Dr. Rieux, who apologizes for his outburst. Paneloux understands that Rieux’s anger is... (full context)
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After watching the child’s death, a change seems to come over Father Paneloux in the following days. He begins working on an essay about whether a priest should... (full context)
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In his sermon, Father Paneloux declares that the extreme and seemingly meaningless suffering of the plague only makes his first... (full context)
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Father Paneloux references a story of a previous epidemic in which only four monks of a monastery... (full context)
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...Rieux and Tarrou discuss the sermon, and they overhear a priest and deacon talking about Paneloux’s new essay, which apparently states that it is illogical for a priest to call a... (full context)
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Soon afterward Father Paneloux grows sick, but he sticks to his principles and refuses to call a doctor. The... (full context)