How is "The Guest" an existential narrative?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With few exceptions, an existentialist asserts that an individual is determined from within, not from outside forces. On the human and literary level what makes existentialists and their heroes homogeneous is their "perfervid individualism."

Camus presents no existential heroes in "The Guest."  Instead, all three of the characters make bad decisions because they are determined from outside forces instead of from within.  The great existential choice they face, of course, is between life and death.  Camus says, ironically, that most men refuse to choose for themselves.  Instead, they let others make their decisions for them and, therefore, choose death by default.

  • Balduccui is defined by his role as gendarme.  Rather than take responsibility for his foreign rule in the country, he blames the natives.  Rather than deliver the prisoner himself, he pawns the Arab off on Daru.
  • The Arab is defined by his fear.  Rather than escape to a life of freedom with the nomads, he chooses to walk toward his execution.
  • Daur is defined by trying to escape all choices.  He blames Balducci for putting him in an untenable position.  He tries to give the Arab a kind of freedom, but it backfires because of a lack of communication.

In the end, all three characters in "The Guest" make bad choices because of outside influences rather than taking individual responsibility for each.  As a result of refusing to make individual choices, each character ironically chooses death over life.  The Arab will be executed; Balducci will be killed in the civil war; and Daru will be revenged by the Arab's brothers.