Last Updated on February 10, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470
Daru is the French Algerian schoolmaster of a rural schoolhouse and is commissioned to escort an Arab prisoner on the second half of his journey to Tinguit. Daru is a native of the region who lives an isolated and monastic existence. He is compassionate toward the poor villagers, especially...
(The entire section contains 470 words.)
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Daru is the French Algerian schoolmaster of a rural schoolhouse and is commissioned to escort an Arab prisoner on the second half of his journey to Tinguit. Daru is a native of the region who lives an isolated and monastic existence. He is compassionate toward the poor villagers, especially during this time of famine, and he treats the prisoner as his “guest,” with compassion and respect. He is annoyed and frustrated, however, with the prisoner’s apparent passivity, and disgusted by the violence of his crime. Ordered to transfer the prisoner to the authorities in Tinguit, Daru resists at every turn. He announces to Balducci that he will not turn the prisoner over to the authorities, and he hopes that the prisoner will escape. Daru later attempts to pass the choice on to the prisoner himself by leaving him abruptly at a crossroads with the means to either escape or turn himself in. This decision is an emotional one for Daru and is misunderstood by the Arab’s compatriots, who leave a threatening message for him on the chalkboard at the schoolhouse. The entire experience leaves Daru with a sense of bitterness and isolation.
The Arab, who is never given a name in the story, has been arrested in his village by the French police for killing his cousin during a dispute. He is being transferred to police headquarters in a nearby town, Tinguit. Though he is treated reasonably well by Balducci, the Arab is sullen and unresponsive. He does not utter a word until after Balducci has left and Daru offers him a meal and a bed. The Arab’s motivation for killing his cousin is unclear. His explanation that “He ran away. . . . I ran after him” baffles Daru. Daru’s questions about fear and remorse both embarrass and astound the Arab, and as a result he develops a kind of attachment to Daru. The Arab then requests that Daru accompany him and Balducci to Tinguit. He is reluctant to leave the schoolhouse without Daru and appears panicked at having to choose whether or not to escape. In the end, the Arab remains largely an enigma to Daru and, to some extent, the reader.
Balducci is the gendarme, or policeman, who delivers the Arab prisoner to Daru before returning to his post. He is brusque but not vicious; he is careful, for example, not to walk his horse too fast when the prisoner is tied behind him. He twice expresses regret or distaste for the harsher aspects of his job. Balducci is truly a man of law and order. He strictly obeys the rules and is neither unnecessarily cruel nor ambivalent toward prisoners. Balducci is a longtime acquaintance of Daru, but their relationship is strained by their conflicting views toward their responsibility for the prisoner.