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Albert Camus' purpose and narrative technique in "The Guest"

Summary:

Albert Camus' purpose in "The Guest" is to explore themes of existentialism, moral ambiguity, and the human condition. His narrative technique employs a detached, third-person perspective that underscores the protagonist's isolation and the stark, indifferent landscape, reflecting the complex moral choices and the inevitability of human solitude.

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What was Albert Camus' reason for writing "The Guest"?

Albert Camus wrote “The Guest” primarily to explore ideas and issues through the lens of a story. First, Camus was a philosopher who developed the idea of absurdism. Absurdism recognizes that humans seek meaning and value in life but very often fail to find it, leading to deep personal conflict. We can see how this idea appears in “The Guest,” for Daru has isolated himself in the schoolhouse, seemingly because he has failed to find meaning anywhere else and is seeking it alone.

Daru realizes, however, that he will not find meaning by violating his own conscience, as he would do if he were to turn in the prisoner. The story ends on a poignant note. Even though Daru does not turn in the prisoner and lets the man decide his fate for himself (and find his own meaning), he returns to the schoolhouse to find a message on the blackboard. “You handed over our brother,” it reads. “You will pay for this.” Daru is left looking at the sky, alone and isolated, with meaning still escaping him.

“The Guest” also explores the issues of Camus's own day. The story is set in North Africa, where the French had long held colonies. When Camus was writing the story, the Algerian War of Independence was raging, setting Algerians against Europeans. Camus himself was conflicted about the events and refused to choose a side, seeing both parties as victims in some ways.

We can see that perspective reflected in Daru's refusal to turn in the Arab prisoner even if that means rejecting specific orders. Daru wants to remain neutral in the conflict that appears to be quickly heightening. Daru wants only to be left alone. He says he will fight if he is called to do so, but turning in this prisoner violates his conscience. Apparently, he thinks that the Arabs should be able to manage their own affairs without French interference. Daru allows the prisoner to do just that, namely, to decide for himself whether he wants to turn himself in to the authorities or not.

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What was Camus's purpose in writing "The Guest"?

Albert Camus was born in French Algeria in 1913 and lived much of his life there. He was intimately familiar with the social, cultural, and political climate of the country, including the plight of Arabs under colonialism.

He wrote the short story "The Guest," first published in 1957, as a sort of treatise on the inescapable personal conflict that resulted from refusing to take sides in the ongoing colonial conflict between Western Europe and Arab nations.

When he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in that same year, he spoke briefly about his own compassionate and unaligned political position, giving much greater credence to whichever society best values its most beneficial creators, be they intellectuals, artists, workers, or whomever.

In his own words, "true artists...are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which...not the judge but the creator will rule."

"The Guest" centers on an Arab man who has killed his cousin in a fight over grain and is left in the care of a teacher, who is supposed to turn him in to the authorities. Instead, the teacher feeds him, gives him money, and provides him with a place to stay. The next day, he sets him free, telling him he can go east to the police and surrender or go south and hide out. But he leaves the choice in the Arab man's hands.

This echoes Camus's own view that Arabs should maintain the right to self-determination—whether to follow traditional Arab customs or subscribe to a more Western mindset or perhaps even some other way of life not characterized by the political climate in French Algeria. The important thing is that they go out and do something: create, work, think for themselves.

Ironically, the idea behind this freedom of choice represented more Western modes of thinking, and while it may not have been his intention, Camus was inadvertently positing the enlightened philosophy of Western Europe as superior to the rigidity of traditional Arab culture.

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What was Camus's purpose in writing "The Guest"?

Albert Camus was born in Algeria and lived most of his life there. At the time he wrote "The Guest," Camus was living in Paris, having fought for the French Resistance during World War II. When the Algerians rebelled against French colonialism and sought their independence, both French and Algerian leaders sought Camus's support for their cause. However, they were "frustrated by his refusal to make public endorsements of either side." He wrote "The Guest," which tells of the encounter between an Algerian and an Arab just before war broke out, in response to both sides. To some extent, the schoolmaster’s reluctance to take sides in "The Guest" may reflect some of Camus's own sense of frustration with the polarized and violent Algerian conflict.

The ending of the story may reflect Camus's frustration with the fact that no matter which side he took, he would end up the loser.

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What narrative technique did Albert Camus use in "The Guest"?

Albert Camus utilizes limited third-person narration throughout his short story "The Guest." A third-person limited narrator tells the story from only one person's point of view. Throughout the short story, Camus uses the third-person narrator to describe the thoughts of Danu, the school teacher. Third-person narration utilizes pronouns such as "he," "she," or "they." Camus writes,

"In contrast with such poverty, he who lived almost like a monk in his remote schoolhouse, nonetheless satisfied with the little he had and with the rough life, had felt like a lord with his whitewashed walls, his narrow couch, his unpainted shelves, his well, and his weekly provision of water and food" (2).

Throughout the story, Camus illustrates Danu's thoughts and feelings about following through with his undesirable task. In contrast, the feelings of the Arab man are never described, and the reader is left wondering why he chooses to turn himself in to the French authorities. Camus also employs irony throughout his short story. Danu is an honest, fair man who ends up with a similar fate as the Arab murderer. Camus' story represents alienation and the absurdity of life, which are common themes associated with existentialism.

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What narrative technique did Albert Camus use in "The Guest"?

The type of narration Camus uses in "The Guest" is called an interior monologue, which means that the only point of view the reader experiences is that of the main character. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (linked below) defines interior monologue as a form of first-person narrative in which the character's thoughts are "‘overheard’ by the reader without the intervention of a summarizing narrator." That is, we know what is happening in the story only through the main character's thoughts. Edgar Allan Poe used this style of narration in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

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