The Plague

Dr. Bernard Rieux Character Analysis

The narrator and main character of the novel, a doctor who is the first to notify the authorities of the plague and urge them to take action. Dr. Rieux is an atheist and a humanist, but he focuses on working as a healer more than finding philosophical or religious answers. Rieux struggles ceaselessly against the plague despite his great fatigue and the signs that his efforts are having little effect. Rieux is separated from his wife at the beginning of the novel, but he does not allow his personal suffering – or even individual pity for the plague victims – to distract him from his battle against the plague itself.

Dr. Bernard Rieux Quotes in The Plague

The The Plague quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. Bernard Rieux or refer to Dr. Bernard Rieux. 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

The word “plague” had just been uttered for the first time. At this stage of the narrative, with Dr. Bernard Rieux standing at his window, the narrator may, perhaps, be allowed to justify the doctor’s uncertainty and surprise – since, with very slight differences, his reaction was the same as that of the majority of the townsfolk. Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux
Page Number: 36-37
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), The Prefect
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2 Quotes

Thus the first thing that plague brought to our town was exile.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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One grows out of pity when it’s useless. And in this feeling that his heart had slowly closed in on itself, the doctor found a solace, his only solace, for the almost unendurable burden of his days… To fight abstraction you must have something of it in your own make-up.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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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…

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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“My question’s this,” said Tarrou. “Why do you yourself show such devotion, considering you don’t believe in God? I suspect your answer may help me to mine.”
His face still in shadow, Rieux said that he’d already answered: that if he believed in an all-powerful God he would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him… in this respect Rieux believed himself to be on the right road – in fighting against creation as he found it.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), Jean Tarrou (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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“After all,” the doctor repeated, then hesitated again, fixing his eyes on Tarrou, “it’s something that a man of your sort can understand most likely, but, since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?”
Tarrou nodded.
“Yes. But your victories will never be lasting; that’s all.”
Rieux’s face darkened.
“Yes, I know that. But it’s no reason for giving up the struggle.”

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), Jean Tarrou (speaker)
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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“I’m afraid I did not make myself clear. I’m told there are some voluntary workers from government offices in that camp… It would keep me busy, you see. And also – I know it may sound absurd, but I’d feel less separated from my little boy.”
Rieux stared at him. Could it be that a sudden gentleness showed in those hard, inexpressive eyes?

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), M. Othon (speaker)
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 5 Quotes

“Rieux,” he said at last, “you must tell me the whole truth. I count on that.”

“I promise it.”
Tarrou’s heavy face relaxed in a brief smile.
“Thanks. I don’t want to die, and I shall put up a fight. But if I lose the match, I want to make a good end of it.”

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux (speaker), Jean Tarrou (speaker)
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

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…Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

Related Characters: Dr. Bernard Rieux
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:

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Dr. Bernard Rieux Character Timeline in The Plague

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. Bernard Rieux appears in The Plague. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...narrator then launches into the events themselves, beginning with a morning in April. Dr. Bernard Rieux steps out of surgery and finds a dead rat on the landing of his apartment.... (full context)
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Exile and Imprisonment Theme Icon
That evening Dr. Rieux sees another rat in front of his apartment, this one still alive but with blood... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Exile and Imprisonment Theme Icon
...walk by in the hopes that the pranksters will give themselves away by smiling. Dr. Rieux goes to visit his asthma patient, an old Spaniard who stays in bed all day... (full context)
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Exile and Imprisonment Theme Icon
More people are talking about the dead rats around town, but Dr. Rieux is distracted by his wife, who is leaving. Rieux tries to apologize for not looking... (full context)
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
That afternoon, a young journalist named Raymond Rambert calls on Dr. Rieux. Rambert wants to discuss his latest report on the sanitary conditions among the Arab population... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Later that day Dr. Rieux passes Jean Tarrou, a man who he has seen before visiting the Spanish dancers who... (full context)
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The next day Dr. Rieux’s mother comes to stay with him to look after the house while his wife is... (full context)
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...8,000 rat bodies are gathered up the situation abruptly disappears. That same day, however, Dr. Rieux sees M. Michel looking very sickly and being escorted home by Father Paneloux, a Jesuit... (full context)
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Later that day Dr. Rieux gets a call from a former patient of his, Joseph Grand, saying that his neighbor... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux visits M. Michel again to find that his condition has worsened. He is now vomiting... (full context)
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...his chambermaids has it, but he is certain it isn’t contagious. Tarrou then describes Dr. Rieux, which the narrator includes to add accuracy to the narrative. (full context)
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The narrator returns to his own account, and describes Dr. Rieux’s calls to Dr. Richard, who is also head of the local medical association, and to... (full context)
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...weather grows rainy and damp and the whole town feels feverish and exhausted, except for Rieux’s Spanish patient, who welcomes it for his asthma. Rieux returns to check on Grand and... (full context)
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More people come down with the mysterious illness, and Dr. Rieux visits them to lance the swellings on their necks, groins, and armpits. A mixture of... (full context)
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Dr. Castel, one of Dr. Rieux’s older colleagues, visits him and they discuss the illness. They both think it is bubonic... (full context)
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...humans, yet we manage to be surprised every time a new one comes. Even though Rieux has seen several people die already, he is still caught unawares just like most of... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux recalls what he has read about the disease, and tries to make sense of the... (full context)
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Joseph Grand visits Dr. Rieux, as it is his job (as a Municipal clerk) to count up the daily deaths,... (full context)
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...properly express himself. He brings up his struggle with words every time he sees Dr. Rieux. Back in the present, Rieux watches Grand leave and intuits that Grand is writing a... (full context)
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The next day Dr. Rieux convinces the government to call a meeting about the health situation, and he wires to... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux visits Grand again and asks him about Cottard. Grand says that Cottard has been acting... (full context)
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The plague serum still has not come, and Dr. Rieux finally realizes that he himself is feeling afraid. Like Cottard, he feels the need for... (full context)
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All day Dr. Rieux visits patients who seem almost hostile to his presence, and he feels more weighed down... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux keeps pressing Richard and the Prefect to take more drastic measures in dealing with the... (full context)
Part 2
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...who seems in a better mood because of the plague. He talks excitedly to Dr. Rieux about how long the epidemic might last. Grand also confesses his past to Rieux, explaining... (full context)
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...But as usual he cannot find the right words. Grand weeps as he tells Dr. Rieux all this. That night Rieux sends a telegram to his wife explaining the plague situation. (full context)
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One evening the journalist Rambert reintroduces himself to Dr. Rieux. He says he is determined to escape Oran to rejoin the woman he loves in... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux acknowledges that Rambert is in an absurd situation, but there is nothing he can do.... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux muses on the conversation and whether he really is living in a “world of abstractions”... (full context)
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...and there is a swift system for cleansing and isolating plague patients. At night Dr. Rieux goes out to make house calls, and there is always a tragic, emotional scene when... (full context)
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Rieux and Grand go to a café to discuss the situation, and Grand explains the nature... (full context)
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...and the manager says Othon is “under suspicion.” Tarrou also describes the kindness of Dr. Rieux’s mother, declaring that such goodness will “always triumph over plague.” (full context)
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Tarrou goes with Dr. Rieux to visit his asthma patient. The old man gleefully explains that the world is “topsy-turvy”... (full context)
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One evening Dr. Rieux watches his mother, who seems so tranquil and resigned, and he thinks about the routine... (full context)
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...volunteers for an anti-plague effort, a group of sanitation workers dealing directly with plague victims. Rieux is grateful for the offer, but asks Tarrou if he has considered the dangers of... (full context)
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Tarrou then asks Dr. Rieux if he believes in God, and Rieux answers by saying that Paneloux is a man... (full context)
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Rieux suggests that it might be better to keep struggling against death, regardless of whether a... (full context)
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...his simple goodness and absurd ideal of expression, as an “insignificant and obscure hero.” Dr. Rieux muses on the difference between this kind of heroism – the small, necessary kind –... (full context)
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...While he waits for his escape to be arranged, Rambert discusses the plague with Dr. Rieux, who is exhausted and short of equipment and manpower. Rambert feels guilty for leaving, but... (full context)
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...They arrange another meeting, and while he waits Rambert goes with Tarrou to see Dr. Rieux. Late that night they go to a bar and Rambert drinks heavily. Tarrou suggests that... (full context)
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...He decides to start all over again, and goes back to Cottard, who is meeting Rieux the next day. Cottard remarks that the sanitation leagues don’t seem to be making much... (full context)
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...They begin to start the whole process over again, which depresses Rambert. Tarrou and Dr. Rieux visit him that night, and he says that the plague is essentially “the same thing... (full context)
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Rambert muses to Dr. Rieux and Tarrou that he stopped believing in heroism during the Spanish Civil War, where he... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux insists that fighting the plague is not an attempt at heroism, but simply “common decency.”... (full context)
Part 4
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September and October come and the weeks drag on. Dr. Rieux and his friends realize how tired they are, as they ceaselessly work against the plague.... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux is forced to harden himself against the desperate families of the plague victims, as he... (full context)
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...that he will escape at midnight the next night. The next day Rambert finds Dr. Rieux in the middle of his work and tells him that he has decided to stay... (full context)
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Dr. Castel finishes his anti-plague serum, and he and Dr. Rieux are present to give the first injection to M. Othon’s small son, Jacques, whose case... (full context)
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...out to God to save the child, but in vain. As he leaves the room, Rieux lashes out angrily at Paneloux, saying that the child was innocent. (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 directed at his sermon... (full context)
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...on an essay about whether a priest should consult a doctor, and he invites Dr. Rieux to come hear him preach another sermon about the plague. Since the epidemic has worsened,... (full context)
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Afterward Rieux and Tarrou discuss the sermon, and they overhear a priest and deacon talking about Paneloux’s... (full context)
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...his principles and refuses to call a doctor. The woman he is staying with calls Rieux nonetheless, as she fears Paneloux has the plague. Rieux examines him and Paneloux does not... (full context)
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November ends and the weather grows colder. Tarrou and Rieux visit the doctor’s asthma patient, and after listening to his chatter for a while they... (full context)
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...third category, which he associates with peace. Tarrou pauses for a while and then tells Rieux that what most interests him is how to become a saint without God. Rieux says... (full context)
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...ocean “for friendship’s sake,” as they have passes that will allow them onto the pier. Rieux agrees, and they swim silently out into the starlit ocean, feeling a rare moment of... (full context)
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...volunteer for the anti-plague squad, as it would help him feel “less separated” from Jacques. Rieux is amazed to see a sudden gentleness appear in the severe man’s eyes. (full context)
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Christmas approaches, and Rieux tries to write a letter to his wife but struggles greatly with his words. The... (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 first sentence of... (full context)
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Rieux then has another patient whose case seems hopeless but makes a similar recovery. Rieux visits... (full context)
Part 5
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...the houses still grieving lost loved ones, who feel exiled by the joy of others. Rieux and his friends join the festivities, and Tarrou sees a cat run across the road... (full context)
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...wonders if he is dead, and whether he was a saint. Tarrou writes more about Rieux’s mother and her gentle kindness, and how she reminds Tarrou of his own mother. (full context)
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Dr. Rieux’s days are no less busy than before, but he has a new hopefulness that makes... (full context)
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...(which is strangely of both pneumonic and bubonic varieties) for several long, painful days as Rieux and his mother tend to him. Finally Tarrou rolls over to face the wall and... (full context)
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The next morning Dr. Rieux gets a telegram reporting that his wife has died. He takes it with composure, as... (full context)
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Rieux walks through the streets and thinks about all the isolated, exiled people who are now... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux reveals himself as the narrator of the chronicle, and explains that he chose the role... (full context)
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Dr. Rieux feels he must end with Cottard, the only man he cannot understand, but whose only... (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... (full context)
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Rieux visits his asthma patient that night, who is transferring peas from one pot to another... (full context)
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Rieux goes up onto the terrace where Tarrou had told his life story. Rieux listens to... (full context)
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Even so, Rieux knows that he is not recording a “final victory” by any means, as the bacillus... (full context)