The Plague

Rats Symbol Icon
Rats appear as the first omen of the plague, and they symbolize both the plague itself and the people of Oran. As symbols of the plague, rats represent the kind of darkness in the world that people try to ignore or rationalize, as humans generally try to ignore rats until the rats are literally dying in front of them. This is similar to how Father Paneloux tries to rationalize the plague as a judgment from God until he is faced with the personal suffering and death of a child, and then his faith is shaken. As symbols of the people of Oran, the rats are the first creatures to die from the plague, struck down ominously and at random just as the people will be later. The rats then begin to return to the city at the end of the novel, as a sign that the plague has retreated and the people of Oran will recover.

Rats Quotes in The Plague

The The Plague quotes below all refer to the symbol of Rats. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Plague published in 1991.
Part 1 Quotes

Michel’s death marked, one might say, the end of the first period, that of bewildering portents, and the beginning of another, relatively more trying, in which the perplexity of the early days gave place to panic… Our townsfolk realized that they had never dreamed it possible that our little town should be chosen out for such grotesque happenings as the wholesale death of rats in broad daylight or the decease of concierges through exotic maladies… Still, if things had gone thus far and no farther, force of habit would doubtless have gained the day, as usual.

Related Characters: M. Michel
Related Symbols: Rats
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rats Symbol Timeline in The Plague

The timeline below shows where the symbol Rats 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
The narrator then launches into the events themselves, beginning with a morning in April. Dr. Bernard Rieux... (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 spurting from its... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Exile and Imprisonment Theme Icon
The next day M. Michel reports that he found three more dead rats, but he has been holding them out as people walk by in the hopes that... (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... (full context)
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...doctor’s principles, and as they leave Rieux refers him to the story of the dead rats. (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...seen before visiting the Spanish dancers who live in Rieux’s apartment. Tarrou is watching a rat convulse and die on the stairwell, and he and the doctor briefly discuss the rat... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
...away. She is a calming presence for him, but Rieux is still concerned about the rats. He calls Mercier, the man in charge of pest control for the city, and strongly... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
The narrator steps back and says that it was from that day forward that the public began... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...a menacing feeling and the public begins to panic, but on the day after 8,000 rat bodies are gathered up the situation abruptly disappears. That same day, however, Dr. Rieux sees... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...two patients with similar symptoms. That night M. Michel grows more feverish, babbling about the rats. The next morning his fever has dropped, but then it suddenly rockets back up. Dr.... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Tarrou records some conversations about the rats and the mysterious illness, and then he describes a family of four who dine at... (full context)
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...appear, but not in any well-attended areas. The basic government response consists of exterminating the rats and sending anyone with a fever to a special isolation ward of the hospital. Meanwhile... (full context)
Part 4
Absurdism Theme Icon
Suffering and Death Theme Icon
...but makes a similar recovery. Rieux visits his asthma patient, who excitedly declares that the rats have come back. When the death toll figures are announced that week, the numbers have... (full context)