|Published in||Exile and the Kingdom|
|Publication type||Collection of short stories|
"The Guest" ("L'Hôte") is a short story by the French writer Albert Camus. It was first published in 1957 as part of a collection entitled Exile and the Kingdom (L'exil et le royaume). The French title "L'Hôte" translates into both "the guest" and "the host" which ties back to the relationship between the main characters of the story. Camus employs this short tale to reflect upon issues raised by the political situation in French North Africa. In particular, he explores the problem of refusing to take sides in the colonial conflict in Algeria, something that mirrors Camus' own non-aligned stance which he had set out in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
The story takes place in Algeria and begins with two men climbing a rocky slope. One of them, the gendarme Balducci, is on horseback and the other, an Arab prisoner, is on foot. At the summit of the hill, a school teacher named Daru watches them climb their way up. There are no students at the school at this time because they stayed home during the blizzard. The two men reach the top of the slope and come to meet Daru. Balducci, an acquaintance of Daru, tells Daru he is ordered by the government to take the prisoner to the police headquarters in Tinguit as a service to his fellow officers. Daru inquires about the crime the Arab committed and Balducci says that he slit his cousin's throat in a fight for some grain, and adds that the prisoner is probably not a rebel. As Balducci is leaving, Daru tells him that he will not take the Arab to Tinguit. Balducci is angered by this and makes Daru sign a paper that states the prisoner is in Daru's custody, then he leaves them. Daru feeds the Arab and gives him a cot to sleep on for the night. In the morning, Daru supplies the prisoner with a thousand francs and some food and tells him if he goes east, he can turn himself in to the police in Tinguit. If he goes south, he can hide with the nomads. Daru then goes back to the school, leaving the prisoner to make his decision. Awhile later, Daru looks back and sees the prisoner heading east to Tinguit, most likely to turn himself in. When Daru looks back at the blackboard in his classroom, there is a message written on it that says, "Tu as livré notre frère. Tu paieras." (You have turned in our brother, you will pay).
This piece is characteristic of existentialism, the prevalent school of thought among the era's literature. It also presents Camus' concept of absurdism, as well as many examples of human choices. The dilemmas faced by Daru are often seen as representing the dilemmas faced by Camus regarding the Algerian crisis and there are many similarities between the character of Daru and his creator Camus. Both are French Algerians exiled by the choices they have made. The main themes of "The Guest" are of choice and accountability. Camus emphasizes, characteristically of existentialist philosophy, that there is always a choice, that the only choice unavailable is not to choose. Daru chooses how he will handle Balducci and whether he will turn in the prisoner; the prisoner chooses whether to go to jail or to freedom. More important, however, is the theme of accountability. The essence of Camus's philosophy is that everyone is "condemned" to an eventual, inevitable death, and accepting this allows for a certain freedom; the prisoner, having achieved self-awareness when Daru gave him the choice to flee or go to jail, realizes the futility of fleeing from the inevitable punishment and goes willingly to jail, thus revolting against the inevitable by making the decision of his own accord and holding himself accountable for the murder.
Daru's choice can also be seen as a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" situation. Daru makes his decision based on what he believes to be the right thing to do. The fact that he will be punished for doing the right thing does not make it any less right. The important point is that people must do what they feel is right, without worrying about how others feel, or about possible rewards or punishments.
Yet another theme can be extracted from this short story, however: complete neutrality is unattainable. This is evidenced by Daru's attempt to avoid making a decision; in the end, the Arab makes the decision for him, and he loses his neutrality.
We find "The Guest" to be a reflection of the time period's own revolutionary experiences. Through the French and Algerian controversies, which at the time of Camus's writings was at its extraordinary climax, we can examine how the fighting between these two displayed Camus's sense of individual freedom. As Omar Dilim, head general of the Algerian Fifth Naval fleet, continued his rampage of incestuous language controversies grew higher. Tensions would go beyond this when Robert Claudel, a famous lawyer and statesman of the time, called upon the French to eliminate the brutish Algerians. These types of infuriating arguments are what many historians believed forced Camus to change parts of his story
Symbolism: The specific location of Daru's home is symbolic of the colonial conflict in Algeria. He requested to be placed at the foothills, between the desert and the dark plateau. However, he was placed upon the plateau where he would be—a schoolmaster. In this symbol, the desert represents the Arabs and the plateau represents the French. He was placed upon the plateau, or in other words, he was forced to join up with the French (though he wanted to remain neutral, as was his character).
Irony: Balducci was the "bad guy" character in this story. Though he was callous and rude to the Arab prisoner, in the end he will just return to his post and live a normal life. On the other hand, Daru was the only person to treat the Arab kindly, and yet he will most likely die for "handing him over."
Daru, who frees the prisoner, only frees the prisoner to go back to supporting a society similar to the one that Daru is trying to disassociate himself with.
Foreshadowing: Frequently throughout the short story, the reader is hinted to that trouble might come to Daru. The author says that the village was beginning to stir, and that was the reason for the transportation of the prisoner. Also, Daru hears sounds of footsteps around the schoolhouse, but he found nothing to materialize from them.
- Camus, Albert (1957). L'exil et le royaume (in French). Paris: Gallimard. pp. 82–99.