In "The Guest" by Albert Camus, what details are omitted from the story as a whole? How might the reader's response differ if those details were included?

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kjtracy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Guest" uses vague descriptions of Daru and his surrounding circumstances to emphasize that he is disconnected from the world around him. The characters are necessarily generic, as they serve as vague representations of the themes and forces Camus experienced in his own life. Daru is briefly described and serves as a representation of Camus himself as well as the average person. Like Daru, Camus was a French-Algerian who found himself torn between the demands of his country and his desire to mediate between French authorities and the indigenous population. Balducci and the prisoner are also described in the vaguest possible terms. The prisoner represents the average person who is faced with the illusory choice between freedom and captivity. Balducci is a vague generalization of the overbearing police authority in Camus's time. Even the original French title of the story is vague in the sense that it could mean "the guest" or "the host" interchangeably.

The Purpose of Omitted Details

Camus uses intentionally ambiguous descriptions of Daru and the other characters in the story to reflect the ambiguity of their circumstances. During the French occupation, the Arabs were trapped in a no-man's-land between their culture and the European ideals imposed upon them. The Arab prisoner is also forced into an ambiguous scenario in which he can either turn himself in and relinquish his personal freedom or subject himself to exile among the nomads. Camus vaguely describes the prisoner's personality and appearance to reflect the fact that the French officials have tried to strip him of his culture and his individuality. If he chooses to turn himself in, the prisoner will lose his freedom. If he chooses to flee, he will lose his community and the life he has led up until that point.

The characters are not the only elements of this story that are lacking in detail. By giving only a vague description of the barren setting of "The Guest," Camus is able to emphasize the harsh reality of the choice left to both Daru and the prisoner. There is no fertile paradise to which either of them can escape. The land is torn between harsh winter and an unforgiving desert climate, much as Daru and the prisoner are torn between their national allegiances and a hollow version of freedom. Likewise, the schoolhouse is generic and isolated, with little in the way of comfort or any reflection of Daru's personal tastes.

If "The Guest" included more detail, the reader's experience would be significantly different. The sparse detail allows the reader to see the underlying similarities between Daru and the prisoner. If the respective European and Arab cultures were described in more detail, it would undermine Camus's point that, beneath the illusion of power structures and culture, most people face a similar lack of personal choice. In a sense, the lack of detail in "The Guest" could just as easily be the result of the Spartan and isolated life that Daru has built for himself as it is the result of Camus's stylistic choice.