Futility Of Human Existence Exposed In The Guest By Albert Camus

2307 words - 9 pages

“He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool” (Wyatt). As this quote by Albert Camus suggests, he was not a very optimistic writer. His gloomy look on life itself can be seen all too clearly in “The Guest”. The story itself deals with Camus’s idea of the futility of human existence: the only rational thing anyone can expect is death.

Camus’s underlying philosophy is revealed from the very beginning of the story. The French title, “L’hote”, translates to mean both “guest” and “host” simultaneously, which implies that the mutually respectful relationship between the main characters in the story should be applied to mankind everywhere. The story begins on an auspicious note with the introduction of Daru, a teacher who chooses to work in an isolated school in the Algerian desert to embrace an ascetic life. Daru is content with a simplistic, rural lifestyle. Undoubtedly, Camus wrote this story out of affection for his teacher, Jean Grenier. Without Grenier, Camus would never have developed his political and philosophical ideas. In the story, Daru is an idealistic teacher who believes in just causes and free will, and is most likely a representation of Camus’s past teachers.

In contrast, a soldier in the French army named Balducci first appears with an Arab prisoner trailing behind him. When Balducci orders Daru to lead the prisoner to the Tinguit jail, a clear distinction between their attitudes is revealed. Balducci is one to follow his orders, neither questioning nor disapproving of any decision by the authorities. Daru, on the other hand, is torn by his own conscience; he will be sentencing a man to his death if he follows orders.

The Arab prisoner appears to be reserved; it seems that either he does not understand the questions posed by Daru, or he feels insulted by the comments. When Daru asks the prisoner whether he was afraid, he replies by turning his eyes away. When Daru asks whether he is sorry for the crime he has committed, the Arab stares at him as if he does not comprehend the words. However, he understands completely the situation that he is in, thus showing that it is Daru who cannot comprehend why the Arab has murdered his cousin.

The history of this racial conflict dates back to when the French first colonized Algeria. Algeria has undergone many years of ethnic strife; the French, though they are the minority, dominate the large Arab population. This clash is further exacerbated by the lack of cultural understanding between the two groups. Daru cannot fathom a plausible reason for murdering a cousin over a debt of grain. Upon hearing of the crime, he feels “a sudden wrath against the man, against all men with their rotten spite, their tireless hates, their blood lusts.” What he has not taken into account is that it may be perfectly acceptable to the Arab to kill a relative rather than lose his honor (Thody). Islamic law leaves private [family] matters alone, but the French...

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