Daru is disillusioned with the expediency and dogmatism of the colonial government as well as with the reactions of the Algerians.
Having lived with the people of the region and taught them, Daru has gained some understanding of them. Along with this understanding, he has also acquired a certain distaste for colonial rule and its oppressive policies that impose a different way of life upon a people in their own country. Then, one day the Corsican gendarme Balducci, who brings with him a prisoner, arrives at the schoolhouse. Balducci imposes upon Daru, ordering the schoolmaster to deliver this prisoner to the police headquarters at Tinguit. Daru objects because he does not wish to become involved with such a matter. In fact, he questions the legitimacy of someone such as him having been chosen to deliver a prisoner.
"What's this story?" asked the schoolmaster.
"No, son. Those are the orders."
"The orders? I'm not..." Daru hesitated, not wanting to hurt the old Corsican. "I mean, that's not my job."
Balducci explains that it is necessary for Daru to deliver the prisoner because he must return in response to a rumor about a forthcoming revolt from the Algerians. However, Daru remains obstinate. Nevertheless, Balducci insists upon Daru's doing as he bids because his orders state that the gendarme must turn the prisoner over to Daru and report back quickly. Now Daru finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, feeling that as a schoolteacher he should have no role in transporting a murder suspect to the authorities.
After the gendarme departs, Daru sets his table for two and he and the prisoner eat together. The Arab asks Daru if he is the judge. When Daru replies that he is merely keeping the prisoner, the Arab asks him, "Why do you eat with me?" but Daru merely replies, "I'm hungry." After their meal Daru sets up a folding bed for the prisoner. He asks Daru if the gendarme is returning, and the schoolmaster replies that he does not know. Then, the prisoner asks Daru to come with him and the others, implying that Daru should join them in their revolt.
The next day Daru and the Algerian prisoner head to Tinguit. When they reach "a level height made up of crumbly rocks," Daru decides to remain neutral by allowing the Arab to make his own choice between reporting to the police at Tinguit or joining nomads in the pasturelands that are a day's journey away. He also gives the prisoner a package with some food and a thousand francs. Then, after parting from the Arab, Daru walks for some distance before he turns to see which direction the other man has taken. It is with dismay that Daru sees him walking slowly toward the prison.
When he returns to his classroom, Daru finds that his decision to remain neutral has been altered against his will. On the blackboard behind him, there is this message: "You handed over our brother. You will pay for this." Now tormented by the illusion of choice in his affairs, Daru discovers that he has lost his identification in the foreign environment in which he lives. He has acted against the colonial government, alienating himself from it, while the Algerians hate him as well.