Critical Overview

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The Guest appeared in Camus’s 1957 collection of stories entitled Exile and the Kingdom. The stories received a mixed but generally positive reception. Camus’s writing career had been largely stalled for many years owing to writer’s block and personal difficulties. Thus some critics saw in the stories a renewed energy that bode well for his next major work of fiction. Some specifically saw these stories as short explorations of themes and situations that he would explore at novel length. Many found, however, that Camus had not successfully mastered the distinction between philosophy and fiction. As Irving Howe wrote in The New Republic: ‘‘Camus still seems torn between the impulse to offer testimony (which means to reduce his fiction to mere examples) and the impulse to tell stories and create characters. . . . The result is a curious mixture of the threadbare and the obscure. . .’’. His untimely death three years later foreclosed the possibility of further development and ‘‘The Guest’’ became his last published work. In general, while they were not regarded as on a level with his best previous fiction, his short stories were understood as an important contribution to his oeuvre. Camus himself had been reluctant to declare them finished, revising them throughout 1956 and 1957 and extending the publication date until late that year. ‘‘The Guest’’ is often regarded as one of the strongest stories in the collection and it has been widely anthologized.

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Early interpretations placed the story easily within a philosophical framework similar to that of Camus, finding in Daru’s action his self-realization as a moral human being, with the necessary sense of alienation that comes from acting in an absurd world. Others noted and analyzed the ambiguity the story forces on its readers. Balducci’s uncertainty about the prisoner’s crime, Daru’s inability to...

(The entire section contains 470 words.)

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Essays and Criticism