Memorable Quotes from Camus' 'The Plague'

Death with a sickle and hourglass
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The Plague is a famous allegorical novel by Albert Camus, who's known for his existential works. The book was published in 1947 and is considered one of the most important works by Camus. Here are some memorable quotes from the novel.

From Part 1

  • "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, 'doing business.'"
  • "You must picture the consternation of our little town, hitherto so tranquil, and now, out of the blue, shaken to its core, like a quite healthy man who all of a sudden feels his temperature shoot up and the blood seething like wildfire in his veins."
  • "8,000 rats had been collected, a wave of something like panic swept the town."
  • "I can't say I really know him, but one's got to help a neighbor, hasn't one?"
  • "Rats died in the street; men in their homes. And newspapers are concerned only with the street."
  • "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."
  • "We tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away."
  • "They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences."
  • "He knew quite well that it was plague and, needless to say, he also knew that, were this to be officially admitted, the authorities would be compelled to take very drastic steps. This was, of course, the explanation of his colleagues' reluctance to face the facts."

    From Part 2

    • "From now on it can be said that plague was the concern of all of us."
    • "Thus, for example, a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike and—together with fear—the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead."
    • "Thus, too, they came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose."
    • "Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men's justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars."
    • "The plague was posting sentries at the gates and turning away ships bound for Oran."
    • "The public lacked, in short, standards of comparison. It was only as time passed and the steady rise in the death-rate could not be ignored, that public opinion became alive to the truth."
    • "You can't understand. You're using the language of reason, not of the heart; you live in a world of abstractions."
    • "Many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come."
    • "To some the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment. And while a good many people adapted themselves to confinement and carried on their humdrum lives as before, there were others who rebelled and whose one idea now was to break loose from the prison-house."
    • "I can understand this sort of fervor and find it not displeasing. At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there's always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they're returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth—in other words, to silence."
    • "Death means nothing to men like me. It's the event that proves them right."
    • "What's true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you'd need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague."
    • "Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn't come in contact with death; that's why he can speak with such assurance of the truth—with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He'd try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its goodness."
    • "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.'"
    • "There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two do make four is punished with death."
    • "Many fledgling moralists in those days were going about our town proclaiming there was nothing to be done about it and we should bow to the inevitable. And Tarrou, Rieux, and their friends might give one answer or another, but its conclusion was always the same, their certitude that a fight must be put up, in this way or that, and there must be no bowing down."
    • "Invariably their epical or prize-speech verbiage jarred on the doctor. Needless to say, he knew the sympathy was genuine enough. But it could be expressed only in the conventional language with which men try to express what unites them with mankind in general; a vocabulary quite unsuited, for example, to Grand's small daily effort."
    • "All this time he'd practically forgotten the woman he loved, so absorbed had he been in trying to find a rift in the walls that cut him off from her. But at this same moment, now that once more all ways of escape were sealed against him, he felt his longing for her blaze up again."
    • "I've seen enough people who die for an idea. I don't believe in heroism; I know it's easy and I've learnt it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves."
    • "There's no question of heroism in all this. It's a matter of common decency. That's an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency."

    From Part 3

    • "No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all."
    • "By the force of things, this last remnant of decorum went by the board, and men and women were flung into the death-pits indiscriminately. Happily, this ultimate indignity synchronized with the plague's last ravages."
    • "So long as the epidemic lasted, there was never any lack of men for these duties. The critical moment came just before the outbreak touched high-water mark, and the doctor had good reason for felling anxious. There was then a real shortage of man-power both for the higher posts and for the rough work."
    • "The truth is that nothing is less sensational than pestilence, and by reason of their very duration great misfortunes are monotonous."
    • "But, really, they were asleep already; this whole period was, for them, no more than a long night's slumber."
    • "The habit of despair is worse than despair itself."
    • "Evening after evening gave its truest, mournfulest expression to the blind endurance that had outlasted love from all our hearts."

    From Part 4

    • "The one way of making people hang together is to give 'em a spell of the plague."
    • "Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I'd no concern with you people. But now that I've seen what I have seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody's business."
    • "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."
    • "No, we should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lay in our power. As for the rest, we must hold fast, trusting in the divine goodness, even as to the deaths of little children, and not seeking personal respite."
    • "Nobody is capable of really thinking about anyone, even in the worst calamity."
    • "We can't stir a finger in this world without the risk of bringing death to somebody. Yes, I've been ashamed ever since; I have realized that we all have plague, and I have lost my peace."
    • "What's natural is the microbe. All the rest—health, integrity, purity (if you like)—is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention."
    • "Can one be a saint without God? That's the problem, in fact the only problem, I'm up against today."

    From Part 5

    • "Its energy was flagging, out of exhaustion and exasperation, and it was losing, with its self-command, the ruthless, almost mathematical efficiency that had been its trump-card hitherto."
    • "Once the faintest stirring of hope became possible, the dominion of the plague was ended."
    • "Our strategy had not changed, but whereas yesterday it had obviously failed, today it seemed triumphant. Indeed, one's chief impression was that the epidemic had called a retreat after reaching all its objectives; it had, so to speak, achieved its purpose."
    • "Yes, he'd make a fresh start, once the period of 'abstractions' was over."
    • "It was as if the pestilence, hounded away by cold, the street-lamps and the crowd, had fled from the depths of the town."
    • "So all a man could win in the conflict between plague and life was knowledge and memories."
    • "Once plague had shut the gates of the town, they had settled down to a life of separation, debarred from the living warmth that gives forgetfulness of all."
    • "If there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love."
    • "What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise."
    • "He knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of final victory. It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts."