Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of the story is taut, concise, stripped of inessentials. One sees in this the influence of Ernest Hemingway, whom Camus admired very much. All that is there is there for a reason; accepting that truth, all the reader has to do is relate the making of the story to its meaning. The reader has already seen how the title, with its ambiguity, sets the stage for various reversals, displacements, and contradictions. From the beginning to the end of the story, for example, the two main characters shift roles unexpectedly or do, or have done to them, unexpected things. Daru is a host to the Arab but is a guest in the Arab’s homeland, making the Arab Daru’s host. Received by Daru as a prisoner, the Arab is set free, made his own host; received in hostility, he is accepted in hospitality and amity. Though he is a gracious host, Daru is treated as, at the very least, an unwelcome guest and, at the end of the story, is condemned to a solitude that is absolute.

The description of solitude and isolation at the beginning of the story prepares the reader for the theme of alienation. Daru is alone at the top of a mountain whose ascent is steep and rocky. The difficulty in scaling the heights (reminiscent, incidentally, of the plight of Sisyphus) defines the difficulty of communication. Daru is far from society. He has no vehicle for transportation and has no significant contact with his family, colleagues, or friends. His only acquaintance (except with his very young students, who have been away for a time because of severe climatic conditions) is with the military. He has tried to put behind him, from not many years before, his war experience; thus, such association as he may have is with those with whom he has no spiritual identity. With one of them, Balducci, he has an immediate falling out. He is an exile in his own homeland.

He and the Arab speak, literally, different languages. This fact further alienates the two men, when the political situation has already made a breach between them. If human beings cannot communicate on one level, they cannot be expected to communicate very easily on another; misunderstanding is bound to be, in such an event, profound and perpetual. Like Meursault, the central character in Camus’s L’Etranger (1942; The Stranger, 1946), Daru is utterly cut off—as much from himself as from the world around him. He is a stranger. Camus is uncharacteristically clear on this point. Almost every line of his story underlines it, artistic structure conveying meanings and themes. The sterile plateau, the steep mountain, the self-imposed apartness, the impossibility of understanding, the cruel ironies—all serve as images or symbols evoking the theme of alienation.

From the evils of human nature one may find consolation in nature; nature—in the usual sense of the word, the natural world of rocks and flowers and trees—is not as unkind as human beings. The author of “The Guest” shows through a technique of contrasts that nature is, at worst, indifferent.