In "The Guest" by Albert Camus, how would inclusion of omitted details alter the reader's response?

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"The Guest" uses vague descriptions of Daru and his surrounding circumstances to emphasize that he is disconnected from the world around him. The characters are necessarily generic, as they serve as vague representations of the themes and forces Camus experienced in his own life. Daru is briefly described and serves as a representation of Camus himself as well as the average person. Like Daru, Camus was a French-Algerian who found himself torn between the demands of his country and his desire to mediate between French authorities and the indigenous population. Balducci and the prisoner are also described in the vaguest possible terms. The prisoner represents the average person who is faced with the illusory choice between freedom and captivity. Balducci is a vague generalization of the overbearing police authority in Camus's time. Even the original French title of the story is vague in the sense that it could mean "the guest" or "the host" interchangeably.

The Purpose of Omitted Details

Camus uses intentionally ambiguous descriptions of Daru and the other characters in the story to reflect the ambiguity of their circumstances. During the French occupation, the Arabs were trapped in a no-man's-land between their culture and the European ideals imposed upon them. The Arab prisoner is also forced into an ambiguous scenario in which he can either turn himself in and relinquish his personal freedom or subject himself to exile among the nomads. Camus vaguely describes the prisoner's personality and appearance to reflect the fact that the French officials have tried to strip him of his culture and his individuality. If he chooses to turn himself in, the prisoner will lose his freedom. If he chooses to flee, he will lose his community and the life he has led up until that point.

The characters are not the only elements of this story that are lacking in detail. By giving only a vague description of the barren setting of "The Guest," Camus is able to emphasize the harsh reality of the choice left to both Daru and the prisoner. There is no fertile paradise to which either of them can escape. The land is torn between harsh winter and an unforgiving desert climate, much as Daru and the prisoner are torn between their national allegiances and a hollow version of freedom. Likewise, the schoolhouse is generic and isolated, with little in the way of comfort or any reflection of Daru's personal tastes.

If "The Guest" included more detail, the reader's experience would be significantly different. The sparse detail allows the reader to see the underlying similarities between Daru and the prisoner. If the respective European and Arab cultures were described in more detail, it would undermine Camus's point that, beneath the illusion of power structures and culture, most people face a similar lack of personal choice. In a sense, the lack of detail in "The Guest" could just as easily be the result of the Spartan and isolated life that Daru has built for himself as it is the result of Camus's stylistic choice.

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In "The Guest" by Albert Camus, what details are omitted from the story as a whole? How might your response to the story be different if they were included?

That is a great question.

First, let us acknowledge that all fiction leaves things out, and short stories leave more things out. They have to, in order to create the focus authors need. So, leaving things out is not a weakness in a story. It’s essential.

Turning to this classic short story by Camus, a number of crucial details are left out. Some of these would reshape my response to the story considerably. Consider, for example, the accusation scrawled on the blackboard in the final paragraph. If we knew that the person wrote that was mentally ill, or had a feud with Daru, or simply didn’t represent the community, that would radically change the ending of the story.

A second key detail relates to Daru, where he’s teaching, and his internal states. Camus tells us Daru lives simply, like a monk. Why does he live so simply, and why did he take this teaching position? Camus presents us with the current reality of the story, but not the background, and that could change our emotional response to Daru (and his actions in the story). We’d feel differently about Daru with more background.

Finally, it would change many people’s reaction to the story if Camus gave more details about the crime for which the prisoner was being held. If we knew there was some sort of justification to the killing, it would be different than if it were an outright, cold-blooded murder. Our sympathies would change.

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