The narrator is about thirty-five years old. He is a highly respected surgeon, but Tarrou thinks that he might pass more easily for a Sicilian peasant. For example, Rieux's hands are not long and sensitively surgeon-like, but broad, deeply tanned, and hairy. Rieux is of moderate height and broad-shouldered; he has dark steady eyes, a big, well-modeled nose, and thick, tight-set lips. His black hair is clipped very close.
He belongs to a small group of people whom Tarrou calls "true healers." While there is still time for him to leave Oran and join his wife, he refuses. He remains in Oran to fight the plague with all his talent and strength. There is nothing heroic about his actions. He fights death and disease because he has been trained to and because he conceives of his life having value only when he is continuing to help others combat death and achieve health. There are only two evils for Rieux — death and man's ignorance of it.
About his personal relationships with his wife and mother, Rieux has misgivings. His love for mankind is consummated daily, yet to those for whom he is husband and son, he feels that he is probably inadequate. During the plague's last stages he regrets not giving more physical and vocal affection. Rieux's flaws, including his exhaustion and his tears when Tarrou dies, are necessary for a correct interpretation of his character. He says in the chronicle that he has told only what was experienced by all, that he has not made the book a highly personal confession. He does not separate himself or his duty from that of every man. Rieux tries to be definitely human — no more, no less.