By mid-August people no longer feel like individuals – the plague has swallowed everything and become a collective disaster. Heavy winds sweep through the town, and the plague begins striking the wealthier districts just as much as the poorer ones. Some people return from quarantine and set fire to their houses, trying to destroy the plague, and the government creates heavy prison sentences for arson. Imprisonment is basically a death sentence, as close groups of people are most susceptible to plague. The guards die just as frequently as the prisoners, as the plague delivers “impartial justice.”
The plague strikes people from all social classes and positions, which only highlights the absurdity and arbitrariness of such hierarchies. The plague is just one incarnation of death, which is an omnipresent “collective disaster,” so the hierarchies were basically absurd before the plague as well. The arsonists are similar to the suicides, giving in to despair in the face of the Absurd.
Other group communities like the soldiers’ barracks and the monks’ monasteries have been disbanded, which leads to more feelings of exile. There is more violence at the town gates, and houses that have been burned or quarantined are looted. The only rule that people actually seem to follow is the curfew, as by eleven the streets are empty and dead.
Every aspect of uniqueness and individuality is slowly subsumed by plague and all the citizens of Oran begin to share a truly communal experience of horror and suffering. People are afraid of the dark like they were as children.
The narrator discusses the burial system at that time. At first, funerals are shortened and stripped of ceremony to make burials more efficient, as the death toll is so high. When the fatalities increase and coffins grow scarce, the government is forced to bury victims in mass graves – first there are separate pits for men and for women, but in the end all are dumped together and covered with quicklime. Burial workers also experience a high mortality rate, so the government pays them high wages as incentive.
In death as well as life, any social hierarchies or sense of individuality is stripped away by the plague. The sheer number of bodies and the necessity of disposing of them so grotesquely begins to prove to the public that the plague is anything but rational or divinely sent. The mass graves are another echo of war and military occupation.
When there is no more space left in the cemeteries, the authorities have to start cremating the bodies of the victims, and a grotesque cloud hangs over parts of the city. Fortunately the death toll does not rise again after the crematorium reaches capacity, and they are not forced to take more drastic measures.
The people of Oran are cremated just as those same people had incinerated the rats months before. The images of the plague-stricken city grow even bleaker, if possible.
Because of this constant death and dehumanization, the public sinks into depression and people begin to forget their absent loved ones. The plague crushes even memories of happiness and hope for the future, and everyone grows listless and weary. Those who had felt so alone and unique in their suffering now begin to speak of it and feel that they are all of “common stock.” The parted lovers lose “love’s egoism” and join the dreary, collective suffering of the public.
Under this crushing weight of suffering and death the people of Oran are finally forced to confront the Absurd. They must recognize that the plague (basically death, or the meaninglessness of the universe) is the state of nature for everyone, so they must lose any selfishness they had in their pain. The town has now become a true community, united by despair.