Compare the characters of the policeman and the schoolmaster in "The Guest" by Albert Camus.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Albert Camus’s “The Guest” offers an unusual story of moral dilemma.  The point of view of the story is third person as the narrator relates the story in an unemotional manner avoiding prejudicing the reader. The setting of the story is 1957 in  Algeria during the French colonial period.  Civil war brews in the country, and everyone is on edge.

The main character is Daru, who finds himself on a plateau in the Atlas Mountains. aligned with the French .  Serving as the local school master, Daru begrudgingly accepts his position.   The two other characters are Balducci, a French policeman, who brings a prisoner with him.  The other character is an Arab man who has been accused of murdering his cousin.

 They were approaching. Balducci was holding back his horse in order not to hurt the Arab, and the group was advancing slowly.

Balducci, asserting that it is simply his job, reduces the Arab and his people to sub humans as he leads the Arab behind a horse.  The policeman describes the murdered relative of the Arab as a butchered sheep.   Balducci finds it easy to look to others to supply the orders. Balducci has chosen the path of least resistance.  He will let others decide his fate for him.  Blindly, he follows orders without question because he has little say so over what he is asked to do. 

As a citizen of France, Daru’s expectation is to follow the rules established by the French colonial government.  However, as an Algerian-born citizen, his honor points in the direction of aiding the Arab.  

What are the basic differences between the two men?

Balducci--

  • assumes the responsibility of delivering the Arab
  • believes that the Arab is guilty
  • treats the Arab like an animal as he brings him up the mountainside
  • divorces himself from any ethical choices
  • presumes that he and Daru had a relationship
  • avoids any part of the decision making process
  • feels insulted by the younger man not agreeing with him

Daru--

  • believes he has  no ethical responsibility to carry out the orders of the anonymous government
  • makes a decision to disobey the orders
  • gives the Arab the opportunity to escape
  • treats the Arab humanely
  • likes Balducci but feels no commitment to him
  • torn by his conscience

These two men, following different paths  clash in the moment.  Balducci will not accept the teacher’s protests.  The policeman suffers no second thoughts about leaving the younger man in a precarious situation except to warn him to keep a gun close.

But you can't let them have their way."

"I won't hand him over," Daru said again.

"It's an order, son, and I repeat it."

"That's right. Repeat to them what l've said to you: I won't hand him over."

As he retreats back to the life of thoughtlessly following orders, he leaves Daru with a moral quandary   of choosing the right course of action.

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