Albert Camus wrote “The Guest” on the eve of the French-Algerian Revolution in the 1950s. This story is based on an actual incident. The setting of the story is an isolated school house in the early 1950s. Camus uses omniscient third-person point of view to reveal the thoughts of the main character, Daru; however, the thoughts of the other characters are obscured.
The protagonist is Daru, a Frenchman born in Algeria, who has been assigned to this isolated area at the base of the Atlas Mountains in Algeria. The two other characters are Balducci, a gendarme or policeman, and an Arab or Algerian criminal.
The times are changing. The government and the local Algerians are unhappy with the status quo. Daru loved both France and Algeria and abhorred the conflict that arose between them.
Daru watches as Balducci brings a man tied to the back of his horse through the snowy mountain. When the men arrive, the French policeman tells Daru that he is to take the Arab to another town to be tried for his crime. The man is charged with killing his cousin over a grain dispute
‘There's the way to Tinguit,’ he tells him. ‘You have a two-hour walk. At Tinguit are the administration and the police. They are expecting you.’
The story’s conflict arises from the school master refusing to take the man because he believes that it is not his job. He thinks that the policeman should take the man. Balducci argues that the government needs him and has ordered Daru to do the job. As a citizen of France, he is expected to cooperate with the colonial authorities in Algeria.
Once again, the school master tells him that he will not do it. This predicament isolates him as much as the barren landscape where he lives. The policeman leaves the Arab with Daru.
It is unclear how much the Arab understands of what is going on. Daru does everything he can to make the man comfortable. He provides a meal for him and a blanket for warmth. Then, at bedtime he provides him a bed. In actuality, Daru hopes the man will escape which will take care of the problem for him.
The next morning the man is still there. Daru fixes breakfast; then, he prepares provisions for the man. They walk toward the town, but about an hour from the school, Daru tells the Arab that he can do whatever he wants to do. He gives the man the provisions and turns back toward the school. When he looks back, the man is still standing there looking confused. A little later, he looks again and the man is gone.
When he returns to the school house, there is writing on the blackboard. It is a threat to the school teacher that because he turned on his own people, he will die.
You have turned in our brother. You will pay.
Of course, Daru is scared and alone.
The French title of the story is “L'hote," which translated into English is "The Guest.” Thus, the title refers to the Arab, who is left with Daru. The man had been tied up. Daru treats him as a guest. He provides him with all of the accoutrements of someone who is there to stay. Food, a blanket, freedom, respect, conversation—all of these things that anyone would expect if he had been asked to spend the night.
The irony of the title comes from the meaning of the word guest. A guest is usually someone who has usually been invited to stay and his presence is desired. This is not the case for the Arab. Daru would be happy if the Arab were to disappear because he does not want to deal with this problem. Yet,the school master is a gentleman and will treat the "unwanted guest" with courtesy.