The Guest Questions and Answers
by Albert Camus

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What are some of the key elements of power struggle in "The Guest"? Do these relate to the author's personal history?

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The short story "The Guest" by Albert Camus takes place in French North Africa during the conflict between the native Algerian Arabs and the French colonialists. This ongoing power struggle serves as background throughout the story. A policeman on horseback leads an Arab prisoner, who is on foot, to a remote schoolhouse on a snow-covered plateau. Daru, the schoolmaster, invites them inside to warm up. The policeman then tells him that he is leaving the prisoner, who is accused of killing one of his cousins, and the headmaster is ordered to take him to police headquarters in a nearby town.

At first the headmaster objects. An overt power struggle takes place between the policeman and Daru the schoolmaster. Daru relents to receiving the prisoner, but says that he won't turn him over. The policeman argues with him but then leaves the prisoner with him anyway after Daru signs a paper that he has been delivered.

After the policeman leaves, Daru allows the Arab prisoner to remain unbound. He prepares a meal and feeds him. He then makes up a bed for the Arab, and they both lie down. Daru is apprehensive for a long time and cannot rest. There is not a real power struggle here between Daru and the prisoner, but rather a feeling of apprehension and distrust brought on through fear and a sense of vulnerability.

In the morning, Daru leads the Arab out onto the plateau and sets him free. He points out two directions in which the man can walk to either turn himself in or find some nomads who will give him sanctuary. The man chooses the path to turn himself in. When Daru returns to the school, there is a threatening note on the chalkboard, evidently from the Arab's relatives.

Albert Camus was born in French Algeria and, as a young man, was opposed to French colonialism. It is certain that this personal history helped inspire some of his works such as "The Guest." As for the philosophy of choice and accountability that lies at the heart of the story, this is a characteristic of existentialism, for which Camus's writing is known. Camus referred to the obligation of writers to commit to truth and honor above all else in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize:

Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.

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