Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The original French title of this story, “L’Hôte,” means not only “the guest” but also “the host.” There is no English word that conveys the double meaning of the French word. Distinctions are leveled, done away with, in order to show a common humanity between Daru and the Arab; still further opposed meanings suggested by the title (amity and hospitality on one hand, enmity and hostility on the other) add to the ambiguity.
The author is deliberately ambiguous because the circumstances of Daru and his Arab guest are. There is no absolute action that can completely satisfy either character. Daru can neither accept European justice nor ignore the crime for which his guest is guilty. The Arab can neither give himself up to his own people nor go to the nomads. To do the former would be to invite severer penalties on himself; to do the latter would be to surrender his identity in a self-imposed exile.
Because he is opposed to the denial of personal freedom but also respectful of law, Daru does not release his prisoner outright; he does, however, leave to him the choice of directions. It can never be clear to the reader why the Arab prisoner elects to go in the direction of the jail. It may be that he is the victim of conditioning; it may be that, from a sense of guilt, he invites condemnation; it may be that, because his crime has cut him off from his own people, he expects European criminal justice to be less harsh and more sober....
(The entire section is 549 words.)
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