What comparisons can be made between Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Wall" and Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Most readers would probably be struck by the calm, outwardly indifferent tone in which both of these stories are narrated. The existentialist point of view of Sartre and Camus is one of rejection of societal norms and traditional attitudes about life and death, and in some sense, the prose style...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

of both conforms to this defiance of norms. At one point in Sartre's story the narrator, Ibbieta, remarks that "no life has value." But both authors are paradoxically implying that even if this is so, man takes on the responsibility of creating his own value system in a cosmos which otherwise would be meaningless.

In Camus's "The Guest" there is no reason Daru must let the Arab man go free, except that of simple brotherhood with another man regardless of political or religious differences, or differences of any kind. The message the prisoner has left for him is an indication (though none was needed for Daru to know this) that acts of mercy will not enable Daru necessarily to make friends with the "enemy" or to protect himself. But Daru's action is a way of creating moral meaning in a setting from which it would otherwise be absent.

The same is true in Sartre's "The Wall." The theme here, as in Camus's story, is that although the world is governed randomly and that a vacuum of value exists at its center, the individual still can create his own meaning through the force of his will. Ibbieta refuses to betray his friend, but by an accident, his information, which Ibbieta has thought false, ends up getting Ramon Gris captured. It is as if Ibbieta has saved himself by the power of his action, even while others are being sacrificed to the Loyalist cause in Spain. In both these stories there is a political struggle—in Sartre's, between the Fascists and Loyalists in Spain, and in Camus's, between the French and Arabs in North Africa. But beyond these immediate forms of conflict, there is a higher existential struggle being waged by each individual within himself. The setting or backdrop of these tales is an accessory, one which is used by the authors as a framework over which they build their messages of man's self-assertion in a random and hostile universe.

Approved by eNotes Editorial