Why is the title ironic?  Why does "The Guest" make a better title than "The Prisoner"?

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On the surface, the title refers to the the Arabic prisoner. This "guest" is one that is thrust upon Daru against his will. Even though the Arab is a prisoner, Daru does not treat him with any hostility and even seems to welcome the idea of his escape. Daru awkwardly...

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On the surface, the title refers to the the Arabic prisoner. This "guest" is one that is thrust upon Daru against his will. Even though the Arab is a prisoner, Daru does not treat him with any hostility and even seems to welcome the idea of his escape. Daru awkwardly treats the Arab to coffee after spending a night fretting over the idea that the prisoner might kill him. The idea of death does not seem to bother him nearly as much as the idea of his life being spent to its end in the course a task that he did not even want. This paints a picture of the Arab not as a prisoner but as an unwanted guest whose host is doing his best to be polite. Amidst the overwhelming melancholy, it can be seen as rather humorous.

However, on a more existential level, "the guest" can be thought of as Daru himself. The war of which he wants no part, and by extension the Arab, could be seen as a Host. Daru is a simple schoolteacher. He cares not for the worry of the outside world. This is often met with some degree of skepticism and even hostility from the people around him. Indeed, Balducci seems downright offended that Daru is not happy to accept the assignment. Daru works hard to leave the Arab's fate in his own hands, and in the end, it costs him dearly. He is completely misunderstood and feels utterly alone, surrounded by people completely enraptured in a conflict that contextualizes everything that they experience.

This brings us to the ultimate irony of the title. The original french title "L'hote" can be translated as one who visits or hosts. So while the English title is officially "The Guest," it could just as easily be translated to mean "The Host."

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The French word hôte can be translated as "guest" or "host." It is more effective to use "guest" (rather than "prisoner") because of this dual meaning. Given these two meanings, it is easy to assume that Daru is the host and the Arab is the guest. The irony here is that we can think of the roles reversed. Daru was born in Algeria but he is from French lineage. And he is there as a part of the French occupation of Algeria. So, the Arab is perhaps more native to Algeria than Daru is. In this sense, Daru is the guest and the Arab is the host.

The ambiguity of guests and hosts underlies the irony in this story. Wouldn't it be logical to say that the French are guests in Algeria, thereby making the Algerians the hosts (against their will). The Arab is a guest in Daru's home but the French are guests in Algeria. Still, Daru is a decent host. Is this born out of virtue, or is it guilt because he is a part of the French occupation? Who are the hosts, and who are the guests?

No one in this desert, neither he nor his guest, mattered. And yet, outside this desert neither of them, Daru knew, could have really lived.

Here, the narrator refers to the Arab as the guest (in Daru's home). The narrator adds that neither man could live outside of this desert. There's no single way to interpret this line. But it implies that both men would be outcasts (guests) outside of this desert. The point is that both men are guests and hosts. This doesn't necessarily help with determining why the Arab chooses to turn himself in. But it does show the complicated dynamics of colonialism.

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"The Guest" is an apt title for the story, since it is filled with irony. Daru treats the Arab man more as a guest than a prisoner, allowing him every possible opportunity to escape and choose his own destiny. Although he allows the prisoner room to escape, the prisoner instead chooses jail, and at the end of the story, Daru himself becomes prisoner to a threat left in his classroom by the Arab's kinsmen, who believe Daru delivered the man to the authorities.

The threat is ironic since, even though Daru wants no part in the mission, and even though he resists Balducci's orders and treats the Arab hospitably, he ultimately becomes a prisoner of the far-reaching effects of political unrest. If the story were entitled "The Prisoner," it would be less thought-provoking than the more cynical choice of "The Guest." Even though Daru is a free man, his freedom is quickly lost as a result of Balducci's visit. After seeing how quickly the course of Daru's quiet life changes, readers should likewise consider how quickly anyone's fortune can change, and how easily one can move from the role of guest to the role of prisoner.

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The title of this story is ironic because the guest is not really a guest at all. He is an Arab prisoner, charged with murder, whom Daru must escort to the police headquarters at Tinguit. So, while the title implies that the Arab is a guest who comes to Daru of his own free will, he is, in fact, forced to come to Daru as part of his journey to jail.

"The Guest," however, is a more appropriate title than "The Prisoner" because Daru does not treat the Arab like a murderer. Daru feeds the prisoner, for example, and shares a table with him. He also gives him a bed for the night. At the end of the story, Daru also gives the Arab a choice: he can escape and return to his community or travel to Tinguit.

Daru, therefore, treats the Arab as his guest, even though he is his prisoner.

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The irony of the title is that the "guest" is not really a guest, but he is the prisoner of the French government.  He allegedly killed his cousin in the village, and the police are taking him to be tried for murder.

The original French title, "L'Hote," means both host and guest if translated into English.  The Prisoner would not make a good title because this story does not really concentrate as much on the Arab as a prisoner, but more emphasis is placed on Daru and his role as a host. 

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