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