The Plague

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Joseph Grand Character Analysis

An elderly municipal clerk of Oran who has never been promoted from his low-ranking job. His marriage to Jeanne also fell into loveless routine, and Jeanne left him. Grand struggles constantly with trying to express himself, and suffers over trying to find the right words. Because of this inability to communicate he could never protest his lack of work promotion or justify himself to Jeanne. Grand is also trying to write a novel, but he cannot get past the first sentence, as he wants every word to be perfect. Grand joins the anti-plague effort, and gets the disease but recovers.

Joseph Grand Quotes in The Plague

The The Plague quotes below are all either spoken by Joseph Grand or refer to Joseph Grand. 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:
Absurdism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Plague published in 1991.
Part 1 Quotes

And this difficulty in finding his words had come to be the bane of his life. “Oh, Doctor,” he would exclaim, “how I’d like to learn to express myself!” He brought the subject up each time he met Rieux.
That evening, as he watched Grand’s receding form… He realized how absurd it was, but he simply couldn’t believe that a pestilence on the great scale could befall a town where people like Grand were to be found, obscure functionaries cultivating harmless eccentricities.

Related Characters: Joseph Grand (speaker), Dr. Bernard Rieux
Page Number: 46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Joseph Grand, a lowly clerk whose life is perhaps the most absurd of anyone in the town of Oran (except for the man who spits on cats). Physically, Grand is a comical figure--he wears clothing that's a little too big for his body. Furthermore, Grand finds it very difficult to express himself--he spends his life trying to write a book, but only ever revises the first sentence constantly. He also wants to justify himself to his ex-wife, who left him, but doesn't because he feels he can never find the right words.

Although it's easy to laugh at Grand, Camus is sympathetic to him, and sees in Grand the strengths and weaknesses of the human race. Humans simply lack the capacity to explain their feelings to other people. Language is our only weapon against chaos--and yet, when we need it most (i.e., when a plague hits), language fails us. But it's crucial that--like Camus, and the farcical Grand--we keep trying to explain the chaos of the universe with language.

On another level, Rieux's thoughts on Grand further show how our human sense of order and civilization serves to distract us from the absurd reality of the universe. Grand is a farcical figure, but also familiar and somehow comforting--his existence is a sign that Oran is the kind of place where such "obscure" and "harmless" men can live out their lives in peace. This small vision of life is then contrasted with the massive, uncaring plague--something that seems to exist in an altogether different universe from Grand and his futile search for the right words. Yet both Grand and the plague exist in the same world--and it's this fact, Camus argues, this clash between the absurd and the human will, that we must constantly be confronting.

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Part 2 Quotes

Grand, too, had suffered. And he, too, might – as Rieux pointed out – have made a fresh start. But no, he had lost faith. Only, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. What he’d have liked to do was to write her a letter justifying himself.
“But it’s not easy,” he told Rieux. “I’ve been thinking it over for years. While we loved each other we didn’t need words to make ourselves understood. But people don’t love forever. A time came when I should have found the words to keep her with me – only I couldn’t.”

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), Joseph Grand (speaker)
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn a little about Grand's past. As a younger man, Grand fell in love with and married a woman named Jeanne. Eventually, though, their love fell apart, and Jeanne abandoned Grand. Grand continues to look back on his time with Jeanne fondly--furthermore, he seems to recognize the role of language in the deterioration of their marriage.

Nietzsche said, "That for which we have words is already dead in our hearts." Camus seems to agree: the things that we have the power to talk about are somehow lifeless and meaningless. Language is supposed to be a tool for expressing our inner feelings, yet here Grand suggests that his and Jeanne's inner feelings can never be put into words. Thus Grand's farcical attempt to always "finds the right words" is actually heroic and very human.

Grand went on talking, but Rieux failed to follow all the worthy man was saying. All he gathered was that the work he was engaged on ran to a great many pages, and he was at almost excruciating pains to bring it to perfection. “Evenings, whole weeks, spent on one word, just think! Sometimes on a mere conjunction!”

Related Characters: Joseph Grand (speaker), Dr. Bernard Rieux
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to Joseph's Grand's quixotic project: a book that expresses itself perfectly, in which every word is ideal. Grand puts so much time into his book that, so far, he's only on the first sentence. He struggles with his book all the time, often spending hours on a single word--which he often crosses out in the end. Grand's struggle for literary immortality is slow, and also comically futile. (And the sentence itself isn't even very good.) And yet he keeps writing.

Camus seems to see something both heroic and absurd in Grand's actions. Much as the other characters embark on folly-filled projects of their own (like Dr. Rieux's practically-useless attempts to cure the plague), Grand has the courage to aim for something impossible, and never give up. (The fact that Camus himself is a writer, and often spent long amounts of time on a few sentences, is another sign that he admires Grand's fortitude, and even sees something of himself in Grand.)

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Joseph Grand Character Timeline in The Plague

The timeline below shows where the character Joseph Grand appears in The Plague. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
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Later that day Dr. Rieux gets a call from a former patient of his, Joseph Grand, saying that his neighbor has had an accident. When Rieux arrives, he discovers that the... (full context)
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...for Rieux’s Spanish patient, who welcomes it for his asthma. Rieux returns to check on Grand and Cottard, and he waits in Grand’s room for the police inspector to show up.... (full context)
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The police inspector arrives and Grand grows very anxious choosing the right words for his statement about Cottard. He settles on... (full context)
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Joseph Grand visits Dr. Rieux, as it is his job (as a Municipal clerk) to count up... (full context)
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The narrator describes Grand, who is tall and thin and wears clothes that are too big for him. When... (full context)
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Grand eventually settled into his austere lifestyle. He still experienced deep emotions and performed kind acts,... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux visits Grand again and asks him about Cottard. Grand says that Cottard has been acting strangely gregarious... (full context)
Part 2
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...the plague. He talks excitedly to Dr. Rieux about how long the epidemic might last. Grand also confesses his past to Rieux, explaining that when he was young he had married... (full context)
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Since then Grand, too, had been trying to make a new start, and had struggled for years to... (full context)
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Rieux and Grand go to a café to discuss the situation, and Grand explains the nature of his... (full context)
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...anti-plague serum using the local bacillus, which is slightly different from the textbook plague microbe. Grand acts as a general secretary for the sanitation squads. Grand has “nothing of the hero... (full context)
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The narrator knows that readers will want examples of a “heroic” character, so he offers Grand, with his simple goodness and absurd ideal of expression, as an “insignificant and obscure hero.”... (full context)
Part 4
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...and his friends realize how tired they are, as they ceaselessly work against the plague. Grand often talks to Rieux about Jeanne, and Rieux in turn finds himself talking about his... (full context)
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...Father Paneloux (who has joined the sanitation league) joins the vigil and he, Rieux, Castel, Grand, and Tarrou watch to see if the serum has any effect on Jacques. (full context)
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...write a letter to his wife but struggles greatly with his words. The season reminds Grand of his courtship with Jeanne – which took place at Christmas – and he grows... (full context)
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As his condition declines, Grand asks Dr. Rieux to read through his papers. Most of them are variations of the... (full context)
Part 5
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...people and having an ignorant, lonely heart. Rieux chronicles himself as he goes to visit Grand and Cottard, but finds a police cordon blocking off the street. Grand approaches at the... (full context)
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Shaken by this incident, Rieux and Grand part ways, and Grand explains that he has written Jeanne a letter and is feeling... (full context)