The Algerian War

by Kimberly Strange

 

"The Guest" is a short story written by Albert Camus in 1957. It is the story of a French schoolmaster who is established in the countryside in northern Algeria and who lives a very simple life. One day, he is visited by Balducci, a French military policeman, who is accompanied by an Arab prisoner. The historical context of "The Guest" is very important in order to fully understand its meaning.

 

Camus' short story takes place in Algeria. Algeria, which is now called the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, is located north-west on the continent of Africa, and was an independent state in the Ottoman Empire until the year 1830 (Algerian War). In fact, throughout its history, it had resisted efforts at colonization from America, Holland, and Britain. However, in June 1830, France began the colonization of Algeria when an army of 37, 000 French soldiers invaded what was then known as The Regency of Algiers (Algeria 1830: The Legacy of an occupation). At this time, the French Monarchy was in crisis and the Governor of Algeria, was weak politically, economically and militarily. In order to restore his popularity among the people, the French monarch decided to embark on a military campaign to conquer Algeria (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

 

The events in "The Guest" take place more than 100 years later at the onset of the Algerian uprising against the French, the Algerian war, which lasted almost 6 years, from 1954 until 1962 (Encyclopaedia Britannica). As soon as the story begins, it is obvious that the Algerians are under French domination when in the first paragraph, Camus tells us about the “four rivers of France, drawn with four different colored chalks”(Camus, 184) on the chalkboard. France’s different waterways would be of no importance to Algerian students if they were not under French rule. When reading Camus' story, it is also possible to determine that it takes place before the Algerian war. According to the story, the meeting described in The Guest takes place in “mid-October” (p.184) which was shortly before the outbreak of the war. In fact, the rebellion began on October 31st, 1954 and was led by the National Liberation Front (FLN); it was the outcome of many years’ resistance to French colonial rule. The FLN stated that its aim was to restore a Sovereign Algerian state. They advocated social democracy within an Islamic framework and equal citizenship for any resident in Algeria. The FLN felt that Algeria had fallen behind other Arab states in social and national emancipation but they thought this could be fixed by becoming independent from the French (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

 

The Algerian war was gruesome, resulting in the death of over 100, 000 French soldiers and civilians, and approximately 1 million Algerian natives and guerrillas. At the time, it was perceived as "France's Vietnam" because it was as politically controversial and divisive for the French as the Vietnam War had been for the Americans ("The Guest"). In the story when Balducci says “In wartime people do all kinds of jobs” (Camus, 186), the schoolmaster responds by saying “Then I’ll wait for the declaration of war” (Camus, 186) showing that contrary to Balducci, the schoolmaster is not eager for war and is does not necessarily approve of it.

 

Finally, on March 19, 1962, the French government called a cease-fire and the fighting finally ended. On July 1st, 1962, 6 million Algerians voted for independence and on July 3rd, Charles De Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent (Algerian War).

 

 

 


Works Cited

 

Camus, Albert. "The Guest". Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. James H. Pickering. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007. 184-193.

 

Algeria 1830: Legacy of an occupation. 22 April, 2004. Richard Wall. 16 November, 2007. <http://www.lewrockwell.com/wall/wall24.html>

 

Algerian War. Grade Saver. 16 November, 2007. <http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/theguest/section1.html>

 

The Algerian war of Independence. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 16 November, 2007. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-46535/Algeria>

 

The Guest. Notes on short stories: Answers.com. 16 November, 2007. <http://www.answers.com/topic/the-guest-story-6>