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Suffering, which crushes human beings both physically and spiritually, is the central theme of the novel. The plague, which is described as an irrational force and a depersonalized evil, is the main cause of the suffering. It kills without regard to age or social status. It also causes exile and separation.
From this theme of human suffering arises a second important theme: the human effort to forge solidarity to counteract suffering. Early in the novel, Dr. Rieux tries to mobilize the medical community and the town administration to fight against the plague. Then Tarrou’s sanitary team of volunteers attempts to fight the oppression of the plague. Even Rambert, the outsider, joins in the fight.
A third important theme is the value of human life. Even though Rieux acknowledges that man cannot overcome death, it is necessary to fight against it in order to preserve the sanctity of life. Throughout his life, Tarrou, as an opponent of the death penalty, has fought for the preservation of life in all circumstances. It is, therefore, natural that he, like Dr. Rieux, immediately joins the fight against the plague.
One of the minor Themes is the difficulty of giving up habits and routines. For example, M. Othon tries to ignore the plague and continue his habit of dining at a fixed restaurant; he is very upset when the restaurant is forced to close because of the food shortage. In a similar manner, Grand finds it very difficult to give up working on his literary masterpiece during his spare time in order to fight against the plague.
The importance of love is another theme of the novel. According to Rieux, love is a great contributor to human happiness. As a result, he misses his wife greatly and longs for her return. He also appreciates the love and kindness that his mother shows. Rieux also understands Rambert's eagerness to return to his love in Paris; as a result, he tries to help the newspaperman escape from Oran. He also understands Grand’s grief over the loss of his wife.
The mood of the novel is unrelieved gloom as the ruthless plague mows down the populace. The heat, the heavy downpour, and the strong hot wind all add to the oppressive atmosphere. There are, however, moments of happiness and humor recorded in Tarrou’s diaries.