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.

Summary

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Daru, a French-Algerian teacher, watches out of the window as two men—one on horseback, one on foot—approach the schoolhouse where he both lives and works. His students have not been to school for the past few days due to heavy snowfall, and he is thankful that the delivery truck was able to bring him supplies in advance of the blizzard. Daru hopes that the snow will end the terrible drought that has plagued the rocky plateau upon which the schoolhouse and the surrounding villages sit. The French government has been supplying him with grain rations to distribute amongst his impoverished students to help them through the drought.

As the two men arrive at the schoolhouse, Daru recognizes the man on horseback as Balducci, a gendarme—or French colonial police officer—whom he has known for years. The other man is an Arab prisoner, his hands tied together as he walks behind Balducci’s horse. Balducci keeps his horse walking at a slow pace, so the prisoner does not have to struggle too hard to keep up.

Balducci greets Daru warmly, and Daru invites the two men to wait inside while he takes the horse to the shed behind the schoolhouse. Once inside, Daru makes tea for everyone. He then asks Balducci’s permission to unbind the Arab man’s hands, to which Balducci agrees. When Daru asks about their destination, Balducci informs him that the schoolhouse—and Daru himself—were their goal. Balducci’s police department is small and understaffed, especially with a possible war brewing in the region, so headquarters has determined that Daru should transport the prisoner to Tinguit, the nearest town.

Daru assumes Balducci is joking and becomes increasingly distressed upon learning that he is serious. He argues that transporting prisoners is not his job. However, Balducci reminds him of the growing unrest in the villages, indicating that even civilians should step forward when needed in such an uncertain political climate. He reassures Daru that he is only responsible for escorting the man to Tinguit; afterward, he may return to his “comfortable life.”

Daru then asks Balducci what crime the Arab man has committed and whether or not he speaks French. Balducci explains that not only does the man not speak French, but he was also arrested for the murder of his cousin—likely over a petty grain dispute. Daru is repulsed by the crime and wonders aloud whether the police suspect that the Arab man is “against” French colonial rule. Balducci says it is unlikely but acknowledges that it can be hard to tell.

Before he leaves, Balducci encourages Daru to arm himself in case of a possible attack and leaves behind his pistol. Daru seems unconcerned, claiming that the location of the schoolhouse will allow him to see any potential enemies before they arrive. He also firmly tells Balducci that, while he is disgusted by the crime the Arab man committed, he will not turn him over to the French police. Balducci attempts to sympathize with Daru’s feelings, but he ultimately reminds him that they are both acting under orders. When Daru remains insistent, Balducci has him sign the transfer paperwork, tells Daru that his decision about what to do with the prisoner—and its consequences—is now his responsibility, and leaves the schoolhouse.  

After Balducci returns to the station, Daru goes into his room to nap and leaves the prisoner alone in the schoolhouse. He is dismayed to find the prisoner still present when he wakes up; Daru had hoped the man might take advantage of his slumber and escape. Now resigned to his circumstances, Daru makes food for both of them and begins speaking Arabic with the prisoner. The Arab asks if Daru is the judge but is confused when Daru responds negatively. He asks why Daru is eating with him; Daru replies that he is hungry.

As the two men eat, Daru attempts to question the man about the murder he committed, asking him why he did it. The man replies that his cousin “ran away,” so he “ran after him,” which baffles Daru. When Daru asks the Arab man if he feels remorse for murdering his cousin, the man seems confused and does not answer. He asks Daru whether Balducci will return the next day and asks if Daru will accompany them to Tinguit—having not understood Daru and Baluducci’s earlier conversation because they were presumably speaking in French.

During the night, Daru sleeps poorly. At one point, he watches as the Arab man gets up and goes outside, hoping he will make his escape. However, the man instead uses the restroom and then returns to bed.

The next day, Daru and the Arab man set off down the rocky slope that leads toward Tinguit. However, once they reach a fork in the path, Daru stops. He hands the prisoner a package of food and a thousand francs. To the east is Tinguit, where the prisoner may turn himself in to French authorities. To the south are communities of nomads, who Daru explains will take the Arab man in if he so desires. The man looks panicked and attempts to say something. However, Daru tells him to “be quiet” and departs, heading back toward the schoolhouse alone. Once he reaches the top of the slope, he sees that the Arab man appears to be heading east toward Tinguit—and prison.

Upon returning to the schoolhouse, Daru finds a message scrawled on the chalkboard: "You handed over our brother. You will pay for this." He is left feeling utterly alone.

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