The Guest Summary

Albert Camus

The Guest

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The Guest Summary

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“The Guest”is a short story by the French writer Albert Camus. It first appeared in the 1957 collection, Exile and the Kingdom. Interestingly, the French title of the story, L’Hôte, can be translated as both “the guest” and “the host,”which play on the roles of the main characters of the story. This story is particularly reflective of existentialism, which was a very significant school of thought at the time of publication. It also presents the concept of absurdism, the philosophy that states any human attempt to find meaning or inherent value in life will fail because ultimately there is no such thing. Camus was an early contributor to the relatively new philosophy, as demonstrated in The Guest. Another significant theme is human choice—choices made and accountability for them. The short story is thought to reflect several revolutionary moments during the era that it was written. The 2014 film, Far From Men, starring Viggo Mortensen, is based on the story.

Daru is a schoolmaster in Algeria. He is watching two men approach the school on a rocky slope, one of them riding a horse and the other walking behind him. He deduces that the two men will reach where he stands within thirty minutes. Daru’s living quarters, the only small room that remains heated in these empty winter months, are in the school. A long drought has just passed, followed by alarge snowfall. As he warms up in his room, he realises he can no longer see the men. They have begun to ascend the next hill, hidden from Daru’s view. He thinks today’s weather is better than the past three days of blizzards.

In the school there are bags of wheat that Daru administers to the children each day, but since the school closed he thinks their older siblings might show up to claim their rations. The wheat arrives from France, and is vital to the families’ livelihoods. The draught killed sheep and men alike, although Daru felt like a lord with his meager accommodations.

The two men are halfway up the slop; the one on the horse is an old gendarme Daru knows, named Balducci. The other is an Arab, with tied hands. Daru watches them arrive, particularly interested in the Arab. Balducci greets the schoolmaster, talking of how long the trip from El Ameur took.

Inside the schoolhouse, the three men sit in a classroom, which Daru has decided to heat. The Arab with still-bound hands crouches near the stove, and Balducci sits on the couch. Daru thinks the Arab looks rebellious. Daru brings mint tea and unties the Arab, who drinks feverishly. Balducci says Daru has been given orders to deliver the prisoner to Tinguit. The prisoner has killed his own cousin. The two discuss the possibility of a rebellion, and as Balducci leaves he gives Daru a gun to protect himself from the Arab. Daru says he does not plan to hand over the Arab. Daru believes this is his duty. Balducci says he will not tell anyone, and asks Daru to sign the paper anyway. Daru leaves the Arab alone in the classroom and returns to his room.

Daru thinks neither he nor the prisoner matter, but they donot belong anywhere else. He returns to the classroom and makes dinner for both of them, and after that he gives the Arab a bed to sleep in. The Arab will not answer Daru’s questions about the murder; he wants to know what they will do to him, whether the gendarme is coming back. Daru has no answers for him.

Daru has difficultt sleeping, torn between loyalties. He thinks he hears the Arab sneak out, and is relieved, but soon he returns again.

In the morning, they eat breakfast, and Daru cleans the room. He thinks of his actions, which insulted Balducci. Daru is angry at the Arab for his crimes, but cannot bring himself to turn him into the authorities, which would be a dishonourable act. The two men dress, Daru packs them food, and they leave the schoolhouse, moving east. Eventually he hands the food to the Arab, along with two thousand francs. The prisoner does not seem to understand. East, Daru points, is the direction of Tinguit. South, he again points, there is a path across the plateau, after which he will find pasturelands and nomads who will shelter him. The Arab is in a panic, but Daru will not listen. He heads back, and when he looks back, the Arab has disappeared. After some hesitation, Daru returns to the spot, and in the distance sees the man heading east, to turn himself in.

When Daru returns to the schoolhouse, there is a message written on the backboard: “You have handed over our brother. You will pay for this.” It is unclear who wrote the note, but it signifies Daru’s constant moral dilemma.