Dr. Bernard Rieux: Character Analysis in The Plague

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       His Physical Appearance and Role as Narrator : Dr. Bernard Rieux is the narrator of the novel, although this is only revealed at the end. Jean Tarrou describes him as about thirty-five years old, of moderate height, dark-skinned, with close-cropped black hair. At the beginning of the novel, Rieux's wife, who has been ill for a year, leaves for a sanatorium. It is Rieux who treats the first victim of plague and who first uses the word plague to describe the disease. He urges the authorities to take action to stop the spread of the epidemic. However, at first, along with everyone else, the danger the town faces seems unreal to him. He feels uneasy but does not realise the gravity of the situation. Within a short while, he grasps what is at stake and warns the authorities that unless steps are taken immediately, the epidemic could kill off half the town's population of two hundred thousand within a couple of months.

As a person, he is an extremely hard worker; but he is also kind and generous to those around him. Unfortunately, his devotion to his work causes him to sometimes neglect his wife, who is very ill.
Dr. Bernard Rieux

      His Duties as Head of an Auxiliary Hospital : During the epidemic, Rieux heads an auxiliary hospital and works long hours treating the victims, He injects serum and lances the abscesses, but there is little more that he can do, and his duties weigh heavily upon him. He never gets home until late, and he has to distance himself from the natural pity that he feels for the victims; otherwise, he would not be able to go on. It is especially hard for him when he visits a victim in the person's home, because he knows that he must immediately call for an ambulance and have the person removed from the house. Often the relatives plead with himm not to do this, since they know they may never see the person again.

      A Practical Man : Rieux works to combat the plague simply because he is a doctor and his job is to relieve human suffering. He does not do it for any grand, religious purpose, like Paneloux (Rieux does not believe in God), or as part of a high-minded moral code, like Tarrou. He is a practical man, doing what needs to be done without any fuss, even though he knows that the struggle against death is something that he can never win.

      Truthful, Objective and Realistic : Dr. Rieux is a medical doctor who is described as a dark man with dark, steady eyes, a prominent jaw, and a knowledgeable look. As the narrator and central character of the book, he has a strong commitment to telling the truth and being objective and realistic about the plague and its hold on Oran.

     Hardworking, Devoted and Generous : As a person, he is an extremely hard worker; but he is also kind and generous to those around him. Unfortunately, his devotion to his work causes him to sometimes neglect his wife, who is very ill. During the course of the novel, Dr. Rieux sends her to a sanitarium even though the treatment is expensive and he cannot really afford it. He looks forward to her return home and promised to make a fresh start of their marriage upon her arrival. She however, dies at the sanitarium.

      Sometimes He Feels Lonely and Isolated : Because of his separation from his wife, Rieux sometimes feels lonely and isolated. As a result, he is very sympathetic to Rambert and tries to help him escape from Oran so he can be united with his family. A Man of Uncompromising Principles Rieux is a man of uncompromising principles. If he cannot get to the truth of a situation, he will have nothing to do with it. His honesty and truthfulness lead Rambert to call him Saint Just, the extremist Jacobean during the French Revolution. His integrity and uncompromising character also lead others to trust him without question.

      More Human than Most People People easily relate to the kind and generous Dr. Rieux. Tarrou believes that the doctor is "more human" than most people and forms a deep friendship with him.

      He Wins the Trust of Others : Grand appreciates the fact that Rieux is willing to give him free treatment since he is poor. He trusts the doctor so much that he confides in Rieux about his broken marriage and his literary work. Even Father Paneloux trust Dr. Rieux's good intentions even when he loses his temper with the priest.

      His Positive Attitude : Rieux's positive attitude and hard work inspire the citizens of Oran to have confidence in him. In truth, he is tireless in his efforts to convince the authorities in the town about the seriousness of the plague. He is also unrelenting in trying to stop the spread of the plague and to help those who are suffering from the horrors of the disease. His most touching goodness, however, is seen in his interest in Grand and his literary work. He takes the time from his busy schedule to make his neighbour feel important and worthwhile.

      He has Difficulty Expressing His Emotions : Although Rieux has difficulty expressing his own emotions, he has enjoyed a close relationship with his mother, who inspires him to care for others. Even though he loves his wife deeply, he has difficulty communicating this. It is only after she has gone to the sanitarium and then passes away that he can express the pain of his separation from her. Rieux even has trouble expressing to Tarrou the importance of their friendship.

      A Source of Inspiration to Others : Rieux's purpose writing the book is a noble one, just like his character. He hopes that by recording the events surrounding the plague in Oran future generations will profit from the account and manage better if the plague should again rear its ugly head. Although he knows that man can never conquer death, he wants to inspire others to fight against it in every way possible.

      A Staunch Humanist and Atheist : Dr, Bernard Rieux is the narrator of The Plague. He is one of the first people in Oran to urge that stringent sanitation measures be taken to fight the rising epidemic. A staunch humanist and atheist, Dr. Rieux has little patience with the authorities foot-dragging in response to his call for action. His actions and personality imply that he believes in a personal as well as a social code of ethics. When Oran is placed under quarantine, Dr. Rieux continues to doggedly battle the plague despite the signs that his efforts make little or no difference. Although is separated from his wife, he does not allow his personal distress to distract him from his battle to relieve the collective social suffering wrought on the confused and terrified population of Oran.

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