The Guest Summary

Set in French-Algeria, Albert Camus's "The Guest" follows Daru, a schoolteacher who is torn between his European education and his sympathy for the native Arabs.

  • Daru, an unassuming French schoolteacher, is tasked with escorting an Arab prisoner to the police headquarters.
  • Daru is uncomfortable with his task and secretly hopes the prisoner will escape.
  • After a fretful night, Daru gives the prisoner supplies and the choice to either turn himself in or flee to safety. The man chooses prison. 
  • After returning home, Daru receives a threatening message from the Arab resistance, who vow revenge against him for turning their comrade over to the police.

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

To translate the French word hôte—someone who either gives or receives hospitality—into English, it is necessary to sacrifice its ambiguity. “The Guest,” Camus’s most frequently anthologized short story, focuses on a character who, suspended between giving and receiving, fails at hospitality. It could as accurately, or ironically, be translated as “The Host.”

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At the outset of “The Guest,” Daru, a schoolmaster of European stock who was born in Algeria, observes two figures, one on horseback and one on foot, slowly make their way through the desolate, snowy landscape toward the schoolhouse where he lives, alone. Balducci, the man on horseback, is a gendarme, and he is accompanying an Arab who has been arrested for killing his own cousin.

Balducci explains that because of civil unrest Daru is being conscripted to convey the prisoner to the authorities in Tinguit, a town located a few hours’ journey away, the next day. The teacher refuses this assignment, but Balducci leaves the unnamed Arab with him anyway. A reluctant host to an unwanted guest, Daru passes the night fitfully, fearful that the Arab might attack him and wishing for his escape. In the morning, the two set out for police headquarters in Tinguit. After walking a considerable distance but still two hours short of their destination, Daru parts company with the Arab, telling him to proceed alone, either to turn himself in to the police in Tinguit or to seek refuge among sympathetic nomads. The teacher watches somberly as the Arab continues alone along the path to prison. On returning to his schoolhouse, Daru, who has tried not to take sides, discovers a message threatening revenge against him for having delivered the Arab to the authorities.

In “The Guest,” the third of six short stories in a collection titled Exile and the Kingdom, Camus continues his examination of longing and alienation. The final word of the story, “alone,” emphasizes the work’s central theme of solitude. Just like the French Algerian Camus, who was rebuffed by both sides when he attempted in 1955 to mediate between France and the Algerian separatists, Daru finds himself condemned to solitude, uncomfortable either among his fellow colons or within the indigenous Arab community. A drawing of the four rivers of France on the schoolroom blackboard indicates that his job is to inculcate his North African pupils with the culture of a European colonial power. However, Daru’s loyalties are not so much torn as eroded. The only bond that he feels is, ironically, with the vast, forbidding landscape that remains indifferent to the human beings who put in brief appearances. Like much of the rest of Camus’s fiction, “The Guest” employs spare, incisive language to depict a universe of disconnected human beings who are tormented by the illusion of free choice.

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