The Guest | Study Guide

Albert Camus

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Course Hero, "The Guest Study Guide," August 24, 2020, accessed September 28, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Guest/.

The Guest | Plot Summary & Analysis

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Summary

Opening

Daru is a schoolteacher in a remote Algerian town. He is also a soldier, and the schoolhouse is his post. In the distance he sees Balducci who is a gendarme or policeman whom Daru has known for a time. He sees another man as well. Daru watches as two men make their way up a mountain toward his two-room schoolhouse that doubles as his lodgings. When they reach him, Daru puts the horse the men were riding in his shed and takes them to a heated room to serve them tea.

The narrator never explicitly states but instead alludes to Daru not being a native of Algeria. He had fought in the war and asked to be placed somewhere in Algeria. He had come to love the country and felt "like a lord" in his little schoolhouse with its abundance of supplies.

The Orders

Balducci informs Daru that he has orders to take the Arab prisoner to the prison in Tinguit. Balducci plans to return to El Ameur alone. Even though it is evident that he is still in the army, Daru balks at this. He does not feel it is his job. Balducci explains that he is part of the small number of policemen patrolling El Ameur and has to get back there without delay. Balducci is presumably instructed by his superior officers to hand the Arab prisoner over to Daru who is to take him to Tinguit.

The Arab Prisoner

Daru wants to know what the Arab prisoner has done. Balducci draws a finger across his throat and explains that the story is not clear. The prisoner's cousin was killed with a billhook over some owed grain. When police found the Arab prisoner, his village had been hiding him.

After Balducci Leaves

Balducci takes his leave, and Daru and the Arab prisoner are left alone together. Daru asks the Arab prisoner if he is hungry. The Arab prisoner says he is. Daru then proceeds to make flat cakes of flour and oil. While they cook he lays out "cheese, eggs, dates, and condensed milk." When it is time to eat, he motions for the Arab prisoner to eat first just as anyone would a guest. The Arab prisoner wants to know if the gendarme will be back the next day. Daru says he does not know. The Arab prisoner trusts Daru enough to say, "Are you coming with us? ... Come with us."

The Night

Almost immediately after the meal, Daru arranges for the Arab prisoner to sleep in his one-room abode that is connected to the schoolhouse. He realizes it places him in danger, but he is not worried because "if need be he would break his adversary in two." He does not sleep well. When the Arab prisoner gets up and goes outside in the middle of the night, Daru hopes the Arab prisoner is escaping. Instead the Arab prisoner comes back inside and goes back to sleep.

The Next Morning

Daru and the Arab prisoner rise, eat breakfast, and drink coffee. As they are getting ready to leave, Daru decides he thinks the Arab prisoner is guilty but that turning him over to the authorities is dishonorable. Daru curses the Arab prisoner and the villages as well as his people for putting him in this position where he has to decide another man's fate.

The Path

Daru sends the Arab prisoner outside. He then makes a "packet of biscuits, dates, and sugar." As they leave Daru carefully checks the path and their surroundings to make sure they're alone. He ushers the Arab prisoner down the path, and they walk for more than an hour.

When Daru is again certain they are alone, he gives the Arab prisoner the packet of food as well as a thousand francs. He tells the Arab prisoner, "A day's walk from here you'll find pastures and the first nomads. They will welcome you and give you shelter, according to their law." He then turns his back on the Arab prisoner and heads for home. He looks over his shoulder more than once. The final time the Arab prisoner has exited the path and is on his way to escape and freedom.

Analysis

Structure

The story completes a classic structure of three sections or acts even though it is a short story. The first act takes place the afternoon that Balducci leaves the Arab prisoner on Daru's doorstep. The second act begins that night when Daru realizes the Arab prisoner could kill him or hopefully escape. The third act begins the next morning when Daru leads the Arab prisoner on the road to Tinguit.

The afternoon that Balducci and the Arab prisoner arrive sets up Daru's inciting incident. The inciting incident is the moment a character experiences a life-changing event. The profundity of the event may not always be apparent, but the inciting incident is typically where short stories and novels start. The arrival of the Arab prisoner is Daru's inciting incident because it causes Daru an existential crisis. He does not want to be responsible for a prisoner, and especially a prisoner who might be innocent. Daru's life is permanently changed because now he faces the existential questions of choices and freedom. He would like to grant the Arab prisoner the same freedom he grants himself.

That night Daru is faced with more questions. He cannot understand why the Arab prisoner does not kill him. Just before morning the Arab prisoner exits the room. Daru believes he is trying to escape which makes Daru glad. Now he does not have to face the question of what to do with his charge. This is the climax, but it is anticlimactic. The Arab prisoner comes back a few minutes later. He either went to the bathroom or got a drink of water outside. Daru wonders why he did not try to escape.

The next morning they eat breakfast and start for Tinguit. They get out of sight of the schoolhouse because Daru suspects they are being watched there. Daru stops the Arab prisoner and gives him enough food to last a couple of days. He also hands the Arab prisoner a thousand francs. He turns and walks back to the schoolhouse. Daru told Balducci he would not turn the Arab prisoner in, and it turns out he really will not.

Ambiguity

With every action, Camus creates a question that he does not answer. Daru treats the Arab prisoner as a guest. Daru feeds the Arab prisoner, and he lets him sleep unshackled. When they are on the road to the prison, he gives the Arab prisoner food and money which provides a way to escape. He never treats the Arab prisoner as a criminal.

Whether it is because Daru believes in the equality of mankind, because he loves his new country, or because he's just "hungry" is unclear. The Arab prisoner never tries to escape despite multiple chances. The questions of whether the Arab prisoner feels guilty, is surprised by Daru's treatment of him, or hopes for friendship are also not answered. His behavior and his request that Daru accompanies him to the prison make it clear he trusts Daru. At the end of the story, the Arab prisoner seems to feel a personal sense of rejection at being sent away, but the reader cannot be sure. He stands on the road after Daru turns his back. It is almost as if he is bereft. He feels a connection to Daru because Daru treated him as well as he would have an innocent man.

Camus seems to be revealing a personal philosophy that life is absurd and there is no explaining humans. He also seems to feel that men are isolated. Some are physically isolated by choice, and there is no way to bridge that self-imposed divide. He also brings up questions about morality and freedom. Camus presents Daru as unwilling or unable to face those questions so they are left unanswered.

The Guest Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Daru watches Balducci and the Arab prisoner travel on the mountain toward him.

Rising Action

2 Balducci and the Arab prisoner arrive.

3 Balducci gives Daru orders to transport the Arab prisoner to Tinguit. Daru refuses the order.

4 Balducci leaves angry.

5 Daru gets his revolver out of his teaching desk.

6 That night Daru hears the Arab prisoner and thinks he will leave.

Climax

7 Daru realizes the Arab prisoner will stay.

Falling Action

8 The next morning Daru gives the Arab prisoner food and money.

Resolution

9 Daru leaves the Arab prisoner on the path to Tinguit.

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