The plague simultaneously exiles and imprisons the town of Oran, and its closed gates leave many citizens separated from their loved ones. Rambert and Rieux are both separated by the quarantine from the women they love, and Rambert, a foreigner, is exiled from his own home as well. Camus also describes the townspeople’s feelings of exile as the plague progresses: first everyone wants to speed up time and end the plague, or they work ceaselessly (like Rambert) to escape and rejoin their lost loved one, while later many citizens give up hope or live in fantasies of regret and longing. For others like Tarrou, their exile is a separation from an idea, a sense of happiness, or a peace that Tarrou only finds in his last struggle against death.
The closed gates of Oran also lead to a sense of imprisonment within the town itself. Many critics have compared the plague to war, and the quarantine of Oran to the German occupation of France in WWII. There are many examples of this in the novel, such as the martial law imposed on the town, the mass graves, and Camus’ own experiences working for the French Resistance against the Nazis. Like an occupied town, the plague makes Oran a microcosm of Camus’ absurd universe. The townspeople all suffer the same epidemic and experience similar kinds of exile and imprisonment, but they still distrust each other and feel alone in their suffering. Only those who accept the plague’s power and their own state of exile, but still struggle against it – like Rambert, who finally refuses to escape to his wife if he must escape as a coward – are able to find a personal sense of freedom.
Exile and Imprisonment ThemeTracker
Exile and Imprisonment Quotes in The Plague
Moreover, the epidemic seemed to be on the wane; on some days only ten or so deaths were notified. Then, all of a sudden, the figure shot up again, vertically. On the day when the death-roll touched thirty, Dr. Rieux read an official telegram that the Prefect had just handed him, remarking: “So they’ve got alarmed at last.” The telegram ran: Proclaim a state of plague stop close the town.
Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile.
At first the fact of being cut off from the outside world was accepted with a more or less good grace, much as people would have put up with any other temporary inconvenience that interfered with only a few of their habits. But, now they had abruptly become aware that they were undergoing a sort of incarceration under that blue dome of sky, already beginning to sizzle in the fires of summer…
A system of patrols was instituted and often in the empty, sweltering streets, heralded by a clatter of horse hoofs on the cobbles, a detachment of mounted police would make its way between the parallel lines of close-shut windows. Now and again a gunshot was heard; the special brigade recently detailed to destroy cats and dogs, as possible carriers of infection, was at work. And these whipcrack sounds startling the silence increased the nervous tension already existing in the town.
Those who enrolled in the “sanitary squads,” as they were called, had, indeed, no such great merit in doing as they did, since they knew it was the only thing to do, and the unthinkable thing would then have been not to have brought themselves to do it. These groups enabled our townsfolk to come to grips with the disease and convinced them that, now that plague was among us, it was up to them to do whatever could be done to fight it. Since plague became in this way some men’s duty, it revealed itself as what it really was; that is, the concern of all.
No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all. Strongest of these emotions was the sense of exile and of deprivation, with all the crosscurrents of revolt and fear set up by these.
“In short, this epidemic has done him proud. Of a lonely man who hated loneliness it has made an accomplice… He is happily at one with all around him, with their superstitions, their groundless panics, the susceptibilities of people whose nerves are always on the stretch; with their fixed idea of talking the least possible about plague and nevertheless talking of it all the time…”
And with his arms locked around her… he let his tears flow freely, unknowing if they rose from present joy or from sorrow too long repressed; aware only that they would prevent his making sure if the face buried in the hollow of his shoulder was the face of which he had dreamed so often or, instead, a stranger’s face. For the moment he wished to behave like all those others around him who believed, or made believe, that plague can come and go without changing anything in men’s hearts.