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In "The Guest" by Albert Camus, how does the setting contribute to the theme?

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The setting of Camus's story consists both of the physical reality of French Algeria and the psychological milieu, arguably one of terror and alienation, in which all three characters are immersed.

To most readers the weather that has just occurred might seem anomalous for the region's climate, but Camus explains that there has been a drought for months which has been interrupted by a three-day snowstorm. The teacher, Daru, had requested a post in the little town between desert and high plateau where there is endless summer, but instead he has been placed to the north on the plateau itself, where a snowstorm can and does happen. It's thus a physically forbidding environment, especially for the French outsiders.

However, one of the important things, psychologically, is that Daru feels that this is his home, in spite of his being European. It is similar to the mindset of other colonials. Both Daru and the old gendarme Balducci sense the Arab prisoner is hostile to them, though when Daru asks him if the prisoner is "against us," Balducci replies that he doesn't know and that "one can never know."

Though the teacher, Daru, obviously has sympathy for the Arab, and though Camus himself was a liberal, the description of him is what most readers today would probably describe as racist to some degree. And even if the man is not one of the Algerian rebels in the war then being fought against the French, Daru still has reason to fear him. So, the overall atmosphere—both the forbidding weather on the outside and the hostility and mistrust inherent in a colonial environment—enhances the alienation and fear of all the characters.

The final moment, in which, after leaving the Arab on the road, Daru finds the threatening message on his blackboard, is the climax in which one realizes the hopelessness of the situation in Algeria, in spite of the good intentions Daru has tried to carry out. It is a metaphor for that of man alone in an indifferent universe.

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One of the primary themes in "The Guest" is the chasm that exists as a separation between the French and Arab experiences.  In this novel, Camus seeks to define a middle ground where the two entities - colonizer and colonized, established and "other" - can meet.  The physical setting where Daru's home and school are located is "in the desert on a high plateau - an intermediate area that belongs to neither the plains nor the mountains" that symbolizes "the moral space that Daru wants to find between the French and the Arabs".

Another element of the setting which contributes to the theme of finding a center, common ground between two elements is the weather.  The action of the narrative takes place between two radically different meteorologic states.  The Algerian desert landscape is ordinarily hot and dry, but during the narrative a violent storm occurs, dropping the temperature and bringing a blanket of snow.  The storm transforms the landscape, softening it somewhat for awhile, then leaving it in a harsh, clear light, similar to the effect that his forced interaction with the Arab leaves Daru's life changed forever.

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