The Guest by Albert Camus: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Joe Ricker
''The Guest'' by Albert Camus reveals the compassion in one character and the integrity in another. Despite orders, appearances, and general assumptions, the guest in Camus' short story reveals his integrity despite being a murderer.

The Guest Arrives

''The Guest'' is a short story by Albert Camus, whose existential and absurdist philosophy resonate through the story with the dilemma the central character faces. Daru is a schoolmaster who meets the arrival of two men who are slowly ascending the rocky terrain to the empty schoolhouse. There has been a recent blizzard, so the students are all at home with their families. When the men reach the school house, Daru knows one of them as Balducci, a genderme. A genderme is simply a type of police officer or armed guard. Balducci brings an Arab prisoner with him with orders by the French government for Daru to transport the Arab to a local town and turn him over to the authorities.

Daru

Daru, who is the local schoolmaster, also serves as a sort of guardian for an outpost, as the school house is where there is a significant cache of food that Daru distributes to the children for their families. The people in the area are quite poor; however, Daru often feels privileged with his position, thinking of himself as a sort of lord over the region because of his access to the provisions. Daru observes about the region and the people there:

'This is the way the region was, cruel to live in, even without men--who didn't help matters either. But Daru had been born here. Everywhere else, he felt exiled.'

This passage offers insight into Daru's character and how he behaves through the rest of the story. Daru is disgusted with the conflict between the French and their colonization efforts in Africa as well as the rebels who are fighting colonization. Daru's behavior toward the prisoner is kind, even though he feels a brief sense of disdain for the Arab after learning about his crime of murder. His feelings are described as follows:

'Daru felt a sudden wrath against the man, against all men with their rotten spite, their tireless hates, their blood lust.'

Regardless of his initial feelings, Daru is compelled by his compassion for man in general and even attempts to refuse to turn the Arab over to the authorities when he first learns from Balducci, the genderme, that he is required to. Upon leaving the schoolhouse, Balducci accuses Daru of insulting him by refusing to oblige.

Daru gives his prisoner tea and food. When asked by the Arab why he is eating with him, Daru tells the Arab because he is hungry. This highlights Daru's indifference to the man's crime and his respect for his fellow man regardless of what he is accused of.

The following day, Daru leads the Arab down the slope of the mountain and points in two directions: east and south. To the east is the town of Tinguit, where the Arab will face his punishment for murder. To the south is the desert, where the Arab can find nomads who will take him in and he can escape his punishment. Daru also gives the Arab money and food, further exemplifying his compassion, but at the same time illuminating his rejection toward his 'duty.'

The Arab

The Arab is the 'guest' referred to by the title of the story but arrives at the schoolhouse as a prisoner accused of violently murdering his cousin in a fight over some grain. The first description of the Arab is as follows: 'At first Daru noticed only his huge lips, fat, smooth, almost Negroid; yet his nose was straight and his eyes were dark and full of fever.'

This description of the Arab portrays him as an animal, but despite this description and being accused of murder, the Arab proves himself to be a man willing to accept whatever consequences come from his actions. He proves this on several occasions.

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