Perhaps the best known and most popular of Camus’s short stories, ‘‘L’Hote’’ (‘‘The Guest’’) was published in 1957 in his first and only story collection, L’exil et le royaume (1957; Exile and the Kingdom). Exile and the Kingdom received a mixed reception from critics. Some saw the collection as revitalizing his career and laying the groundwork for future works after the writer had gone for several years without publishing. Others found that it did not live up to expectations. Many felt that there was an unresolved tension between the stories as fiction and as explorations of philosophical ideas. Evoking numerous and sometimes contradictory interpretations, ‘‘The Guest’’ has endured as one of Camus’s more important works, with recent critics delving more deeply into the colonial context of the story. It remains a compelling exploration of Camus’s moral and philosophical themes and a powerful evocation of colonial relationships. Camus worked on the story mainly from 1952 to 1954, revising it many times, most particularly as the crisis leading to the Algerian War deepened and he wanted to avoid worsening the tensions between French and Arab Algerians with his portrayals. Some of these modifications heightened the ambiguities in the story, particularly with respect to the character and motivations of the prisoner.
‘‘The Guest’’ tells of an encounter between a French Algerian schoolteacher and an Arab prisoner on the eve of the Algerian uprising. The story emphasizes many of Camus’s most characteristic themes: individual alienation, freedom, the value of human life, responsibility, the difficulty of moral choice, and the ambiguity of actions. It gains additional layers of meaning through its incisive portrait of colonial life and the psyches of colonizer and colonized alike.