What was Camus's purpose in writing "The Guest"?

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Albert Camus was born in French Algeria in 1913 and lived much of his life there. He was intimately familiar with the social, cultural, and political climate of the country, including the plight of Arabs under colonialism.

He wrote the short story "The Guest," first published in 1957, as a sort of treatise on the inescapable personal conflict that resulted from refusing to take sides in the ongoing colonial conflict between Western Europe and Arab nations.

When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in that same year, he spoke briefly about his own compassionate and unaligned political position, giving much greater credence to whichever society best values its most beneficial creators, be they intellectuals, artists, workers, or whomever.

In his own words, "true artists...are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which...not the judge but the creator will rule."

"The Guest" centers on an Arab man who has killed his cousin in a fight over grain and is left in the care of a teacher, who is supposed to turn him in to the authorities. Instead, the teacher feeds him, gives him money, and provides him with a place to stay. The next day, he sets him free, telling him he can go east to the police and surrender or go south and hide out. But he leaves the choice in the Arab man's hands.

This echoes Camus's own view that Arabs should maintain the right to self-determination—whether to follow traditional Arab customs or subscribe to a more Western mindset or perhaps even some other way of life not characterized by the political climate in French Algeria. The important thing is that they go out and do something: create, work, think for themselves.

Ironically, the idea behind this freedom of choice represented more Western modes of thinking, and while it may not have been his intention, Camus was inadvertently positing the enlightened philosophy of Western Europe as superior to the rigidity of traditional Arab culture.

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Albert Camus was born in Algeria and lived most of his life there. At the time he wrote "The Guest," Camus was living in Paris, having fought for the French Resistance during World War II. When the Algerians rebelled against French colonialism and sought their independence, both French and Algerian leaders sought Camus's support for their cause. However, they were "frustrated by his refusal to make public endorsements of either side." He wrote "The Guest," which tells of the encounter between an Algerian and an Arab just before war broke out, in response to both sides. To some extent, the schoolmaster’s reluctance to take sides in "The Guest" may reflect some of Camus's own sense of frustration with the polarized and violent Algerian conflict.

The ending of the story may reflect Camus's frustration with the fact that no matter which side he took, he would end up the loser.

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