Discussion Topic

The ironies and main aspects of interest in Albert Camus' "The Guest"

Summary:

In "The Guest," Camus explores irony and human responsibility. Daru is coerced by Balducci to turn in an Arab prisoner, but instead, he gives the man food and money to escape. Ironically, the Arab turns himself in, leading to Daru being threatened by the man's brothers. Camus highlights the absurdity of human actions and the often unintended consequences of doing the "right thing."

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What aspect was Camus mainly interested in and what are examples of irony in "The Guest"?

Camus was philosophically enamored with irony. In the story "The Guest," Camus explores the social implications of taking absurd actions that are contrary to your position and how that affects you and your outlook, but he also explores what happens when those actions fail miserably in an ironic twist of fate.

In the story, Daru is pressured by the officer Balducci to turn in the Arab man—whom he releases into his custody. In the first ironic event, Balducci is the one who is truly responsible for taking this man into custody, but he doesn't want to, so he leaves the responsibility to Daru and expects it to happen. Despite shirking his own duty, he is angered when Daru refuses to do his job for him.

Daru, after signing the paper agreeing to turn him in, then refuses to do so; instead, he shelters the man and gives him food and money so that he can escape. The second twist of irony is that the man then chooses to turn himself in—which is legally beneficial to Daru. However, the man's brothers assume Daru has turned him in and in turn threaten his life.

Camus is interested in the repercussions of doing the "right thing" in spite of the consequences, social implications, or the resulting repercussions if those actions fail. It turns into a humorous depiction, but "The Guest" shows that good work is sometimes done in vain.

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What aspect was Camus mainly interested in and what are examples of irony in "The Guest"?

In this story as in much of his writings, Albert Camus explores the moral and ethical quandaries of human existence. The police officer Balducci and the unnamed “Arab” both appear as flat representatives of types. Although each of them makes significant choices, it is Daru’s decisive action or lack thereof that best expresses Camus’ attitudes toward human responsibility.

Camus understood the world as fundamentally absurd: because human beings cannot know the meaning of any event, their possibilities for action are extremely limited. Just to continue to live is the most significant choice, but those who do not choose physical suicide are left with what he called “philosophical suicide,” or the necessity to continue living in a morally vacant universe.

The best example of irony is the story itself. Camus uses situational irony to structure the story. Daru is not at all interested in being an agent of state repression, but Balducci coerces him into that position. At every subsequent stage of the story, Daru’s limited choices are set in motion by his Balducci’s actions of bringing the Arab to him and leaving him there.

Daru attempts to alleviate his sense of guilt by giving the Arab food and money and by putting the decision in his hands. The two ironies that result are the Arab’s choice to head toward the prison and the unseen “brothers” interpretation that Daru has taken him to jail—as he had flatly stated he would not do—for which they will exact their revenge.

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What aspect was Camus mainly interested in and what are examples of irony in "The Guest"?

Camus is interested in the existential choices of his principal characters.  "Guest," translated from French to English, can mean "guest" or "host."  In this way, each character is both a "guest" and a "host" of the others, just as each character in Camus' most famous novel is a "Stranger."  The Arabs are guests in the French-controlled country of Algeria.  The Colonial French are guests of the native Arabs.  Daru and Balducci are both unwilling hosts of the Arab (neither want him).

The principal irony comes at the end.  Daru has left the Arab at the crossroads: one way leads to freedom (the nomads); the other way leads to death (the prison).  Daru refuses to deliver the Arab to either place; he tries to make a choice by not making a choice, which Camus says is, by default, choosing death.  So, ironically to Daru and the reader, the Arab chooses death.  Is it because he was honoring his host, Daru?  Is it because he was afraid of a nomadic life of freedom?

Camus says that most people are afraid of freedom; therefore, most people--at the crossroads--choose death.  They refuse to acknowledge the absurdity of the universe and give up their freedom of choice to external forces (the French gov't; the gendarme; a host, etc...)  Philosophical, absurdist irony.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

The principal irony of the story is perhaps that although Daru has, in effect, released the Arab prisoner instead of escorting him to the police as he was supposed to do, he finds the ominous message left for him in the schoolroom after he returns. It implies that a good deed doesn't go very far or have much meaning in this situation. But what, one might ask, could Daru have done? Would any action under the circumstances have accomplished the goal of defusing the tension between the "occupiers" and the "occupied"? It's ironic that a straightforward question such as this has no clear answer.

The message of the story is one in which Camus expresses sympathy for the indigenous North African population. Daru, like Camus himself, is a liberal who recognizes the injustice of the colonial occupation. Yet those of French descent who had themselves been born in Algeria saw the country as their "home" as well. The French title, "L'Hôte," can mean either "guest" or "host," so an underlying irony is that Daru, who serves as the "host" of the prisoner in one sense, is just as much the "guest" of the Arab man because the French are occupying his country.

Yet, even those French who were progressive in thought did not believe, at the time the story takes place, that they could simply clear out and "go back" to France. Eventually they did decolonize, but it was only after years of brutal war. The right-wing French factions then attempted to assassinate DeGaulle for having made the decision to grant independence to Algeria.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

One of the ironies of the story is that Daru is happy living like a monk teaching school in a remote district because it removes him from direct involvement in politics and war (although he does have to teach colonialist history and geography to his students) but, as he finds out, he cannot escape such direct involvement. The last thing he wants to do is transport an Arab prisoner to the authorities in Tinguit, yet, ironically, that is exactly what he is called on to do.

Ironically, too, Daru gives the Arab every chance to escape and find freedom—he wants to Arab to escape—and yet the man refuses to take advantage of his opportunities. This forces Daru to do what he doesn't want to do—both because he wants to be left alone and because he rightly fears reprisals from the prisoner's Arab comrades—and deliver the man up to the authorities.

In a final twist of irony, the aloneness Daru has so treasured makes him vulnerable to revenge, for it means there is no one to protect him from the Arabs. He comes back to his schoolroom to find scrawled on his blackboard:

"You handed over our brother. You will pay for this." Daru looked at the sky, the plateau and beyond the invisible lands stretching all the way to the sea. In this vast landscape he had loved so much, he was alone.

All of these are examples of situational irony, which occurs when events work out the opposite from the way a character plans or wishes they would.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

The irony in Camus' "The Guest" is that Daru wrestles endlessly with the weight of making the correct moral decision, constantly weighing all the variables, contemplating his place in the world, and resenting the conflict around him altogether. Yet when the time finally comes to make the right choice, and he does so boldly, the result is that it didn't matter at all what choice he made; the outcome was the same, and he may as well have done the opposite of what he actually did.

After reluctantly accepting the Arab prisoner and agreeing to take him to the sheriff—even though, as a schoolmaster, none of this is his responsibility—Daru ruminates heavily on the nature of this conflict in which he is swept up. Daru sets the Arab free, gives him some money, and offers him advice on where to go to escape. The prisoner, however, turns himself over to the sheriff anyway, and when Daru returns to his schoolhouse, he finds a threatening message from the prisoner's comrades.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

Irony is that space between what is expected and what actually happens or exists.

Begin with the landscape: it is desolate yet beautiful. Daru is isolated in the desert, yet it is here that he feels comfortable.

It is ironic that Balducci expects Daru to comply, even though it is clear that Daru (living in exile) is sympathetic to the natives. He has learned Arabic, teaches them and feeds them. But Baladucci believes Daru will be treated as a foreigner if anything occurs: "If there's an uprising, no one is safe, we're all in the same boat," he warns.

The primary irony of Camus' story is Daru's belief that not making a choice is the just thing to do. But not making a choice is a choice. Daru is blinding himself to the realities of the Arab's world. He gives the Arab "dates, bread and sugar," enough to hold out for "two days," as well as "a thousand francs." Despite his gesture, Daru's generosity means very little, for the Arab has little choice but to face the "the administration and the police." They are, Daru says, "expecting you."

The last irony is that both Daru's intended good will and his denial to stay uninvolved has backfired. Upon returning to his classroom, he sees that someone has written on his map, "You handed over our brother. You will pay for this." Like the Arab, there is no way to "win."

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

Albert Camus wrote “The Guest” on the eve of the French-Algerian Revolution in the 1950s.  This story is based on an actual incident. The setting of the story is an isolated school house in the early 1950s. Camus uses omniscient third-person point of view to reveal the thoughts of the main character, Daru; however, the thoughts of the other characters are obscured.

The protagonist is Daru, a Frenchman born in Algeria, who has been assigned to this isolated area at the base of the Atlas Mountains in Algeria.  The two other characters are Balducci, a gendarme or policeman, and an Arab or Algerian criminal. 

The times are changing.  The government and the local Algerians are unhappy with the status quo.  Daru loved both France and Algeria and abhorred the conflict that arose between them.

Summary

Daru watches as Balducci brings a man tied to the back of his horse through the snowy mountain.   When the men arrive, the French policeman tells Daru that he is to take the Arab to another town to be tried for his crime.  The man is charged with killing his cousin over a grain dispute

‘There's the way to Tinguit,’ he tells him. ‘You have a two-hour walk. At Tinguit are the administration and the police. They are expecting you.’

The story’s conflict arises from the school master refusing to take the man because he believes that it is not his job. He thinks that the policeman should take the man.  Balducci argues that the government needs him and has ordered Daru to do the job. As a citizen of France, he is expected to cooperate with the colonial authorities in Algeria.  

Once again, the school master tells him that he will not do it. This predicament isolates him as much as the barren landscape where he lives. The policeman leaves the Arab with Daru.

It is unclear how much the Arab understands of what is going on.  Daru does everything he can to make the man comfortable.  He provides a meal for him and a blanket for warmth. Then, at bedtime he provides him a bed.  In actuality, Daru hopes the man will escape which will take care of the problem for him.

The next morning the man is still there.  Daru fixes breakfast; then, he prepares provisions for the man.  They walk toward the town, but about an hour from the school, Daru tells the Arab that he can do whatever he wants to do.  He gives the man the provisions and turns back toward the school.  When he looks back, the man is still standing there looking confused.  A little later, he looks again and the man is gone.

When he returns to the school house, there is writing on the blackboard.  It is a threat to the school teacher that because he turned on his own people, he will die.

You have turned in our brother. You will pay.

 Of course, Daru is scared and alone. 

The Title

The French title of the story is “L'hote," which translated into English is "The Guest.” Thus, the title refers to the Arab, who is left with Daru.  The man had been tied up.  Daru treats him as a guest.  He provides him with all of the accoutrements of someone who is there to stay.  Food, a blanket, freedom, respect, conversation—all of these things that anyone would expect if he had been asked to spend the night.

The irony of the title comes from the meaning of the word guest. A guest is usually someone who has usually been invited to stay and his presence is desired. This is not the case for the Arab. Daru would be happy if the Arab were to disappear because he does not want to deal with this problem. Yet,the school master is a gentleman and will treat the "unwanted guest" with courtesy.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

The irony of Camus' "The Guest" is that while Daru the teacher is an honest and fair-minded man, and his "guest," the Arab prisoner is a murderer, both men find themselves facing similar fates.

When Balducci (the policeman) arrives at Daru's home, he tells Daru that he must assume the responsibility of the Arab prisoner, taking him on to the jail as Balducci has too much to do. Daru refuses, but Balducci leaves the Arab prisoner with him anyway.

In a short time, Daru becomes convinced that he cannot do as he has been asked. He takes the Arab prisoner part of the way to the jail, but stops at a point in the road where they must choose to go toward the jail or away from it. Making this clear to the Arab, Daru turns and starts his journey home. At a short distance away, Daru turns around and sees, amazingly, that the Arab man is walking in the direction of the jail. The man has seen the inevitability of facing the crime he has committed and goes, knowing he will punished for taking another man's life.

Daru is as much a prisoner as the Arab. He is told he must take the Arab to jail. He believes that he has a choice: to do so, or to let the Arab decide. By refusing to decide the Arab's fate one way or another, Daru has still made a choice. However, when he returns home, he finds that he, too, will be punished for what he has done. However, it will not be for a crime he has committed, though those who threaten his life believe he has; because they are certain Daru has taken the Arab to jail, the Arab's friends promise to return and kill him.

...on the blackboard...sprawled the clumsily chalked-up words..."You handed over our brother. You will pay for this."

The irony is that the Arab is being punished because he actually did something wrong. Daru will be punished though he has done nothing wrong. In truth, as soon as Balducci brings the Arab to him, unless Daru lets the man go while they are still at his home, he will be blamed for anything that happens to him after they leave Daru's house.

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What are the ironies in Albert Camus' "The Guest"?

Albert Camus was familiar with the setting of the story "The Guest." This was his birth place. The time of the story is October in the 1950s on the eve on the French/Algerian War.  The specific setting is a school house built at the base of the Atlas Mountains. It is an isolated region. 

Summary-

The main character/protagonist Daru is the French born Algerian local school master.  The title of the story comes from life altering event for the teacher.  A local policeman brings an Arab prisoner to stay the night with the teacher. This is the teacher's guest.   The teacher has been ordered to take the prisoner to a town several miles away to hand him over to the authorities. 

Daru refuses to accept this responsibility.  It is not is job. He does not like how the prisoner has been treated despite the fact that he has killed his cousin over a petty quarrel. 

And he cursed at one and the same time his own people who had sent him this Arab and the Arab too who had dared to kill and not managed to get away.

After the policeman leaves, Daru gives the Arab many opportunities to escape.  None of which he takes.  Daru treats him like a guest, providing meals for him, bedding, and warmer clothes. 

In the morning, Daru decides to take the Arab part of the way, provide him with rations, and leave him to go on wherever he chooses.  After leaving the Arab on the road and when the school master returns to the school, he finds a threatening note written on the blackboard because of his part in holding the criminal. 

Irony-

Ironically, Daru has provided the means for the Arab to escape.  He has done everything in his power to help the man.  Feeling alone and betrayed, it is likely that Daru will lose his life because of this incident.

Another exanple of irony, comes from the control that the government has had on the life of Daru.  He has been forced to take a job that he does not like in a place he does not want to be.  The irony comes when he is forced to do something against his conscience; then,  Daru stands against the government.  Understanding that his life has meaning only if he stands against the officials, he decides to  treat the Arab humanely and allow him to choose his own destiny.

Conflicts-

Two conflicts come to light for Daru.  The first is his stance against society. The government has ordered him to follow their rules despite the fact that Daru does not believe in them.  He chooses to go against the orders and stand alone in an hostile environment.

'But you can't let them have their way.'

'I won't hand him over,' Daru said again.

'It's an order, son, and I repeat it.'

'That's right. Repeat to them what l've said to you: I won't hand him over.'

Secondly, Daru does struggle with his distaste in what the Arab has done.  Of course, he does not agree with the murder.  However, he believes that this should be taken care of by the locals and their customs.  Again, he chooses to take his own path to solve the problem.

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