Dilemma and Beliefs in “The Guest”
By Marie-Claude Poulin
In Albert Camus’ short story “The Guest”, Daru (the French schoolmaster) is given a task he did not choose. Daru has to face the reality: he has to deliver the Arab to prison. This goes against Daru’s beliefs, so he is left with a big dilemma.
Daru is struggling with his dilemma. He does not know which decision to make for the Arab; whether he should send him to prison or if he should let him free. When Daru asks the prisoner: “Why did you kill him?” (189), he might unconsciously hope that the prisoner’s answer would be helpful for the decision Daru has to make. When Daru asks him if he is afraid or if he is sorry, he seems to want to find out what the Arab’s feelings are. He seems to expect some kind of answer from the Arab, but Daru’s intentions are unclear. One cannot tell specifically what Daru is trying to find out by asking the Arab all those questions. Daru’s dilemma is not only about sending the Arab to prison or giving him freedom of choice, but it is more an internal dilemma. Daru believes in human rights, and he also believes that individuals define themselves by freedom of choice.
Daru treats the Arab as a guest. In a way, he protects his new guest because he treats him as a human being with freedom of choice, not as a prisoner (as he would be expected to do according to social convention). Daru thinks (and wishes) the Arab will try to escape during the night. There are no clues that let the reader know what the Arab is doing, but he is not escaping. “The Arab has developed an almost compulsive trust in Daru, in response… to Daru’s earlier kindness the significance of which lies not merely in Daru’s humane and compassionate behavior, but in his acceptance of the Arab as an honorable man who deserves all the privileges of a guest” (Griem). Daru’ humane and compassionate behavior might be associated with existentialism. Daru treats his guest according to his own beliefs, not according to social beliefs. As one of the premises of existentialism says “Following social conventions is a personal choice made by individuals” (Griem); this proves that Daru’s acts reflect existentialism since he acts according to his own ideas and personal choices.
Daru really does not want to deal with the decision he has to make. The schoolmaster has responsibility for the Arab, but he refuses to make a decision for someone else, as it is against his beliefs. In the middle of the night, Daru thinks the Arab is escaping: “He is running away, he merely thought. Good riddance!” (190). This proves that the schoolmaster would rather escape his responsibilities than deal with this dilemma. Daru thinks it would be easier if the Arab would just escape; that way, he could go back to his normal life, alone and free of moral choices.
Daru’s final decision (to give the Arab freedom of choice) and the Arab’s final choice (to face his trial) are significant because “both men have acted according to the dictates of their different moral codes, and yet both are threatened with annihilation, in a system that does not recognize their respective merits (Griem)”. When Daru leaves the choice to the Arab, it is because he decides to follow his personal conventions instead of society’s conventions. Consequently, Daru is threatened by the message left on the blackboard saying: “You handed over our brother. You will pay for this” (192). Even though Daru acted according to his own beliefs and moral code, he did not make the right decision in society’s eyes. The message on the blackboard could also mean that Daru thinks he did not make the right decision because there is no evidence in the text that proves that the man’s Arab brothers wrote the message and that Daru did not composed it himself. Daru’s actions might have been misinterpreted (McMurray). As for the prisoner, he decides to act according to his own moral code choosing “to face his trial; yet he will most certainly not be judged on the basis of that code, but must expect lifetime imprisonment or, worse, a death sentence” (Griem). This might suggest that even though they acted on the basis of their own moral codes, others judged them. Therefore, every decision and act comes with consequences.
Daru might leave the choice to the Arab because he feels some kind of brotherhood. Daru treats the Arab as a guest, almost as a brother since they eat together, sleep together and spend time together. Daru even gives him money, food and an opportunity to escape (McMurray). He might respect him and treat him as an equal because “Daru is conspicuously aware that he and the Arab belong equally to the family of man” (McMurray). All this leads Daru to trust the Arab and give him freedom of choice.
Camus, Albert. “The
Guest.” Fiction 100: An Anthropology of
"Albert Camus's 'the Guest': a New Look At the Prisoner." Studies
in Short Fiction 30 (2002): 95. Literary
McMurray, William. "Camus ‘The Guest': The Message on the Blackboard."
Studies in Short Fiction 14 (2002): 78. Literary