The Guest by Albert Camus: Setting & Analysis

Instructor: Joe Ricker
A story that exemplifies the philosophical absurd, Albert Camus' 'The Guest' reveals the irony of one man's attempt to remain neutral in a region torn by conflict.

The Absurd

If you've ever been punished for something you didn't do, then you'll probably appreciate the irony present in 'The Guest' by Albert Camus. The story exemplifies Camus' perspective on absurdism, especially concerning the meaning of one's existence. Absurdism refers to the philosophical search for meaning and the inability to find any. In the case of 'The Guest,' a schoolmaster who is reluctant to pick sides during a conflict finds himself in a precarious position because of his lack of action; this is the ironic part of the story. While the setting is significant, the presence of irony is striking, especially at the end.

Time and Place

'The Guest' is set during the period of conflict in French colonized Algeria, which ranged between 1954 to 1962. Daru, the schoolmaster, lives in the nearby schoolhouse that serves the poor families in a mountainous region. To the south is the desert. East, where Daru is expected to transport the prisoner, is Tinguit. The region has suffered a tremendous drought, and without warning or the typical rainy season, a severe blizzard has blanketed the slopes leading up to the schoolhouse.

Confusion and Reluctance

When the local police officer Barducci brings an Arab prisoner accused of murder to the schoolhouse, Daru receives them with curiosity. After Barducci informs Daru that he is to escort the Arab to Tinguit and hand him over to the authorities there, Daru refuses. He wants no part in the conflict. After all, his position there is as a teacher. Barducci informs Daru that he has orders to complete the task and leaves.

The Arab is accused of murdering his cousin by slitting his throat over some grain. While Daru feels a tremendous amount of disdain for the continual violence that men bring to each other, he treats the Arab well. Far more, in fact, than what would be expected of a person in charge of a prisoner.

Daru's only real desire throughout the story is for the Arab to escape so that he can avoid participating in the conflict between the French and Algerian rebels. He is so disinterested in the task he's been charged with that he leaves a pistol on his desk and walks away. He rethinks this, and retrieves the pistol. Daru's lack of concern for his safety reveals a much deeper irony later in the story.

Daru isn't the only one who exhibits interesting and ironic behavior: the Arab has more than one opportunity to overpower Daru or simply escape. One such incident proves that the Arab isn't going to make any attempt to avoid his punishment. In the middle of the night, the Arab gets up to relieve himself outside and then returns to his cot to sleep. Even Daru wonders why he didn't try to escape.

Irony

In the morning, Daru collects some food and money and brings the Arab down the slope of the mountain away from the schoolhouse. At an overlook, he gives the Arab the food and the money and tells him that if he heads east, he'll reach Tinguit, where he can turn himself in. However, if the Arab heads south, he'll come across a band of nomads who will take him in. There, the Arab can escape persecution for his crimes. Daru leaves him to make his decision.

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