Michael J. Cummings...©
on the Original French Version and on a Translation by Wallace Fowlie in
Stories - Contes Français (Bantam Books, 1960)
Quotations From the Story
Translated by M.J. Cummings
men climb a rocky slope toward a school on a high plateau in the Atlas
Mountains of Algeria. One is on foot, the other on horseback. In the deep
October snow, their progress is slow. After observing them from outside
the school, Daru, the teacher assigned to the school, returns to the building
for a sweater. It is about two in the afternoon. The classroom is empty
and unheated, for the twenty or so students from villages in the region
remained home after the snowstorma three-day blizzard that followed eight
months of drought. On the blackboard is a drawing of the major rivers of
France for a geography lesson that awaits the return of the students after
the weather changes for the better.
the Second World War, the government assigned Daruan Algerian-born Frenchmanto
the school in the desolate high country even though he had requested a
position in a school in a foothills town with an ideal climate. He lodges
in a room adjoining the classroom, where he goes to warm himself. During
the storm, he left the room only to get coal and tend his chickens. Wheat
sacks crowd his quarters. Daru has been distributing the grain to his students
to sustain them and their families during the hard times caused by the
drought. Because the families will probably be running low now, Daru expects
a father or brother of one of the children to arrive soon to take a supply
back to the villages.
schoolteacher goes back outside to check the progress of the two men. On
the horse is a Corsican-born gendarme (constable, or police officer), Balducci,
who is nearing retirement. He is an old acquaintance of Daru. Behind Balducci
at the end of a rope is an Arab with his hands tied. When the climbers
near the school, Balducci shouts to Daru that it took only an hour to travel
the two miles from El Ameur. Daru takes his horse to a shed while the policeman
and his prisoner go into the school and warm themselves in Darus room.
The Arab cannot speak French, but Balducci and Daru both speak Arabic.
After Daru heats the classroom, Balducci and the Arab settle in there while
their host makes them hot mint tea. With Balduccis approval, Daru unbinds
the Arabs hands to make it easy for him to drink the tea.
then announces that Daru is to take the prisoner to police headquarters
at Tinguit, about twelve-and-a-half miles away. Taken aback, Daru asks
the gendarme whether he is serious. After all, Daru is only a schoolteacher.
But Balducci says talk of a revolt requires him to return to El Ameur to
help his fellow officers deal with the emergency. The prisoner could not
be kept at El Ameur, he says, because his village was astir with plans
to free him. The government says it is Darus duty to cooperate. When Daru
inquires about the Arabs alleged crime, Balducci says he slit his cousins
throat with a billhook (tool for pruning and cutting) in an argument over
which of them owned a supply of grain. Balducci further informs Daru that
the Arab is probably not a rebel. After Daru serves both men more tea,
Balducci walks over to bind the Arab again, but Daru tells him not to bother.
he prepares to leave, Balducci suggests that Daru keep his shotgun handy
in case of an uprising. Daru assures him that he can defend himself. For
good measure, Balducci gives the younger man his revolver, saying he does
not need it for his trip back to El Ameur. Daru then speaks up against
Balduccis plan, saying that he will fight the rebels if necessary but
will not take the Arab to Tinguit.
un ordre, fils" ("Its an order, son"), Balducci says.
Daru stands firm. Angry, Balducci has Daru sign a document stating that
the prisoner was placed in Darus custody. Balducci then leaves.
invites the Arab into his room and prepares a meal of pancakes and omelettes.
After nightfall, Daru provides a cot for the Arab and outfits it with blankets.
He asks his guest why he killed his adversary. Instead of answering the
question, the Arab replies that the man ran off. Then he chased him.
narrator, using French, quotes the Arab as saying, "Maintenant, qu'est-ce
qu'on va me faire?" (Now what are they going to do to me?)
the morning, they drink coffee and eat cakes. Daru then goes outside and
peers across the landscape as he thinks about his prisoner. He believes
that the Arabs crime is abominable. However, the narrator says, to hand
him over was contrary to honor. Merely thinking of it made him smart with
humiliation. 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.
hours into their journey down the plateau, Daru surveys the landscape:
a plain to the east and rocky land to the south. He turns to the Arab,
gives him a thousand francs and a package of food, and tells him he may
go east to Tinguit to turn himself in to the police or south to take refuge
with nomads. Daru then begins retracing his steps back to the school. After
several minutes, he turns around and notices that the Arab remains standing
where he left him. Daru continues on for several more minutes, then turns
around again for another look. The Arab is gone. Sometime later, when the
sun is high and the snow is melting, Daru turns around a third time and
sees the Arab in the distanceheading east to Tinguit, presumably to turn
at the school, Daru stands at a classroom window looking out. On the blackboard
is scrawled this message: "Tu as livré notre frére. Tu paieras."
("You have turned in our brother. You will pay.")
of the Title
French title of the story, "L'hôte," can be
translated as "The Guest" or "The Host." Thus, the title can refer
not only to the prisoner (the guest of the English title) but also to the
schoolmaster, who "hosts" the prisoner.
ancient times, the inhabitants of what is now Algeria were called Berbers.
They established a kingdom, Numidia, in the third and second centuries,
B.C., under the aegis of Rome. In the seventh century, A.D., Muslim Arabs
invaded the country and conquered the Berbers, who accepted Arab rule and
Islam. By the early 1500s, Spaniards had gained control of key port cities
and required the natives to pay tribute (money or valuables). After the
natives asked Turkey for help, the Turks drove out the Spaniards and allowed
the country to rule itself under Turkish supervision. In the 1830s, France
gained control of the country and colonized it. On October 31, 1954, the
Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front)
launched a revolution against the French occupiers. The revolution ended
in 1962 with a ceasefire followed by a referendum in which Algerians voted
to become an independent nation. Half a million people lost their lives
in the war.
story is set in October of a year in the early 1950s on a desolate plateau
in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria after a blizzard. At that time, native
Algeriansboth Arabs and Berberswere agitating for
Daru: Frenchman born
in Algeria. He teaches at a school on a plateau high in Algeria's Atlas
Mountains. As a citizen of France, he is expected to cooperate with the
colonial authorities in Algeria. But as an Algerian-born resident of the
North African country, he feels honor-bound not to turn in the Arab villager
accused of murder. This predicament isolates him as much as the barren
landscape where he lives. Daru reflects the sentiments of the author, who
loved both France and Algeria and abhorred the conflict that arose between
The Arab: Algerian
villager accused of murdering his cousin.
who takes the Arab from El Ameur to the school where Daru teaches. He assumes
that the Arab is guilty of the alleged murder.
of Work and Narration
Guest is a short story centering on a decision that becomes a turning
point in the life of an Algerian-born Frenchman. Camus uses omniscient
third-person point of view to reveal the thoughts of the main character,
Daru, and limited third-person point of view to conceal the thoughts of
the other two characters.
Guest" was one of six short stories published in a 1957 collection, Lexil
et le royaume (Exile and the Kingdom).
the arrival of Balducci and the Arab, Daru bowed to the will of the French
government. First, he accepted a teaching job on a lonely plateau in the
Atlas Mountains even though he wanted a post in a foothills village with
an ideal climate. Then, as a schoolmaster, he served as an agent of the
French government, teaching native children about France even though their
families generally opposed foreign rule. The blackboard drawing of the
rivers of France illustrates this point. But after authorities in El Ameur
order him to escort an Arab prisoner to the police station in Tinguit,
Daru refuses to cooperate. His decision to defy officialdom arises from
an awakened awareness in himself of an independent spirit, alluded to when
Balducci tells him, "Tu as toujours été
un peu fêlé" ("You have always been a little crazy").
To be a manto be fully humanDaru must begin to control his own destiny
according to the dictates of his conscience. The arbitrary mandates of
Balducci and his superiors no longer hold sway. Daru's life has meaning
only if he rebels against authority and does what he believes is morally
acceptable to him. He begins his new life of self-determination by treating
the Arab humanely and allowing him also to choose his own destiny.
Isolation and Loneliness
imposes isolation and loneliness on Daru via the following:
1. His position
in society as a citizen of France and resident of Algeria. Siding with
either country in a time of upheaval would single him out for retaliation.
Thus, he exists in a limbo of ....alienation.
Injustice of Colonialism
2. His decision to ignore
the French order to turn in the Arab prisoner at the police station in
Tinguit. His action invites the wrath of the French. At the same time,
his agreement to take ....custody of the prisoner
risks retaliation from the villagers who support the prisoner. The penultimate
sentence of the story sums up Daru's predicament: Daru regardait le
et, au-delà, les terres invisibles qui s'étendaient jusqu'à
la mer. (Daru observed the sky, the plateau and, beyond, the invisible
landscape stretching to the sea.)
3. His desolate surroundings.
He teaches at a school on a plateau high in the Atlas Mountains. He has
no next-door neighbors. There are no taverns, theaters, or markets nearby.
1500 and 1900, European powers subdued and occupied other nations to exploit
them economically, politically, and strategically. Portugal, Britain, Spain,
The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and France were among the countries that
gained control of parts or all of other nations in Asia, Africa, and the
Americas. Native populations eventually rose up against their occupierssometimes
peacefully, as in the Gandhi-led uprising in India against the Britishbut
usually violently, as in the Algerian rebellion against the French. "The
Guest" is in part an indictment of the French occupation of Algeria. Even
Balducci, a willing cat's-paw of the government, acknowledges that he has
mistreated the natives: "Mettre une corde à un homme, malgré
les années, on ne s'y habitue pas et même, oui, on a honte"
("Putting a rope around a man's neck, in spite of years of doing it, well,
I can't get used to it. Yes, I am even ashamed.")
as a Statement of Camus' Philosophy
an atheist, Camus believed that the world was absurd and meaningless, as
he argued in his 1942 essay, "Le mythe de sisyphe" ("The Myth of Sisyphus").
However, he later altered his opinion, asserting that a human being can
give meaning to his life through self-determination, especially when exercised
in humane causes. What a person must do is to make his own free and independent
decisions outside the bounds of the herd mentality; he must become a rebel.
According to Camus, a rebel is a person who opposes injustice and oppression
while treating the downtrodden with compassion. In "The Guest," Daru acts
out Camus' views, deciding to defy authorities at El Ameur and to treat
the Arab with dignity and respect. After rejecting the colonial government's
dictums, he allows the Arab to decide his own fate. Camus' world is thus
a world of free choices, of decisions that define a person. It is also
a world of alienation, for the decisions that define a person isolate him
from the masses that abide by the status quo.
idea that free and independent choices can make a person's life meaningful
in a meaningless world is an expression of existentialism,
a philosophical movement.
climax occurs when Daru decides to release his prisoner. This decision
becomes his personal declaration of independence from the authority of
the state. It also provides the Arab an opportunity to choose his own fate.
the Arab prisoner arrives, Daru realizes that he too is a prisonerof
the French authorities who gave him his job, of the barren environment
where the French placed him, and of his own willingness to accept his lot
without protest. This realization causes Daru to take the first step toward
freeing himself: He refuses to carry out the order to escort the Arab to
Tinguit and turn him in there to the French police.
The old gendarme Balducci
is a prisoner of lockstep obedience to French authority. When he receives
an order, he believes it is his duty to execute it without questioning
it. He expects Daru to do the same.
following appear to be significant symbols in the story:
drawing of the rivers of France, symbolizing French colonialism. The
drawing suggests that learning about the rivers of France is more important
to the children of Algeria than learning about the geography of the their
the prisoner's hands, symbolizing a step Daru takes toward freeing
himself from bondage to the ideas of others. When he unbinds the prisoner,
Daru begins the process of his philosophical revolt against French authorities.
mountain plateau, symbolizing Daru's isolation as an Algerian-born
Frenchman caught between belligerent factions. The vast barren landscape
(l'immense étendue du haut plateau désert) may also
represent the emotional emptiness resulting from the author's rejection
of belief in God.
With "Moral" Atheism: an Opinion
an atheist, was said to be a humble man who fought for what he and his
supporters deemed noble causes, postulating a secular morality that required
him to oppose oppression and injustice. However, his ideology had no adequate
explanation for how a moral system can exist without an ultimate arbiter
(supreme being). Denial of the existence of such an arbiter enables a personor
a group of persons, including a governmentto claim the power of deciding
what is right or wrong. Thus, if an atheistic dictator authorizes ethnic
cleansing, slavery, or oppressive colonialism, he can enforce his policies
as morally rightsimply because he says they are right. Or if an atheistic
citizen decides to embezzle money, slander his neighbor, or sexually abuse
a child, he can justify his actions to himself on grounds that no absolute
moral code exists that prohibits these actions. His only concern is to
prevent discovery of his actions by others who subscribe to an absolute
moral code. Some societies that ignore or deny the existence of an immutable,
overriding moral code have invested citizens with the power to determine
morality via the ballot box or via elected representatives. Thus, decisions
on moral and ethical issues such as human cloning, abortion, and the use
of torture by the military depend on the whims of the electorate and their
politically motivated representatives.
the world of Camus, a person can attempt to give meaning and nobility to
his life through decisive, even rebellious, action to counteract immoral
activity. But without an ultimate arbiter, there is no morality or immorality.
One ends up confronting the witches' paradox in Shakespeare's Macbeth:
"fair is foul, and foul is fair."
Study Questions and Essay
what extent did Albert Camus base "The Guest" on his own experiences?
an essay that compares and contrasts the mind-set of Balducci with the
mind-set of Daru.
Arab had an opportunity to escape Daru's custody during the night. In your
opinion, why did the Arab remain?
narrator identifies the gendarme as Balducci and the schoolmaster as Daru
but refers to the prisoner only as an Arab. Is the narrator suggesting
that foreign control of a country robs the natives of their identity?
last paragraph of the story says the following message has been written
on the blackboard: "Tu as livré notre frére. Tu paieras."
("You have turned in our brother. You will pay.") The narrator does not
reveal the author of the message. In your opinion, who wrote it?
an informative essay, discuss the effects of colonialism on Algeria.
an informative essay, discuss the effects of colonialism on an African
nation other than Algeria.
an essay, discuss the conditions under which you believe the people of
a country have a right or even a duty to rebel against its government.
of violent rebellion, what can citizens of a democracy such as the United
States do to counteract government action that they deem immoral?
Arab is described as wearing a jellaba (also spelled djellaba or
a hooded robe with long sleeves, and a chèche, a cotton cloth wound
around the head and neck for protection against blowing sand. Write an
essay describing the dress of a typical male or female Muslim Arab. Include