Student Question

In "The Guest" by Albert Camus, what similar defining moments in literature could mirror the choices faced by Daru and the Arab prisoner?

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In The Guest, Daru and the Arab prisoner make closely linked choices that determine their futures. The effect of each man's choice is multidirectional as the prisoner's decision to turn himself in will likely cost Daru's life in the end. There are examples of these types of existential moments all throughout literature. The works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky feature many existentialist themes and defining moments. Jean-Paul Sartre is an existentialist author whose work prominently features the theme of defining moments as well.

Crime and Punishment

In Crime and Punishment, which is perhaps Dostoyevsky's defining work, the main character, Raskolnikov, experiences a defining moment when he plots the murder of an elderly pawnbroker in his community. This defining moment is an interesting contrast to Daru's defining moment in "The Guest." While Daru's existential moment comes as a result of his decision to remain impartial in the middle of political turmoil, Raskolnikov's defining moment occurs because he was simply curious as to whether he could go through with murder. The remainder of Crime and Punishment focuses on how Raskolnikov deals with the consequences of the decision he made, including the guilt and paranoia that push him to confess to the murder.

Crime and Punishment offers an interesting take on existentialism as the consequences of Raskolnikov's choice are both positive and negative. The most obvious and immediate consequence of Raskolnikov's choice is the rapid decline in his mental state after the murder. This distress prompts him to confess, at first to the prostitute Sonia and later to the Russian authorities. In this sense, Raskolnikov has two defining moments in the story, including his decision to commit murder and his subsequent decision to confess. If he had not committed the murder, he likely would have continued living his mundane yet peaceful life. If he had not confessed, he would never have found redemption through the beautiful and understanding Sonia. Dostoyevsky uses these moments to illustrate the double-edged sword of existentialism. Reality, both good and bad, is created through the choices we make.

Jean-Paul Sartre

No Exit is both one of Sartre's most iconic works and a strong example of the existential moment in literature. This story examines the role of choice in each character's life, death and afterlife. The cold Ines died at the hands of her lover, who happened to be her cousin's wife, and views her sentence to Hell as justly earned. Similarly, Garcin believes that his cowardice and selective pacifism resulted in his own violent end. Estelle is the only one who seems surprised by her destination in the afterlife, but it is later revealed that she killed her infant child in an attempt to preserve her social standing. Each character can trace his or her fate back to one defining moment that has eternal consequences, making No Exit a clear discussion of existentialism.

If any of the characters in No Exit had made a different choice, it is implied that they would not have met their untimely deaths. As it is, they are all doomed to be tortured by one another for eternity. Much like the choices Daru and the Arab prisoner made in "The Guest," the choices made by the three main characters in No Exit will have lasting consequences on themselves as well as each other.

In both of these works, the main characters made a choice that defined them forever. True to the tenets of existentialism, none of these choices were without consequence and none were made in a vacuum. Each choice was important because it reflected the themes of the smaller choices each character made leading up to them.

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