The Hero of Albert Camus' The Guest
Although some have called Albert Camus an existentialist, he never consented to the label. Still, he saw many things the way an existentialist sees them. Camus talks of humanity’s aloneness in the universe and their complete freedom and responsibility for their own lives, themes he pulls together with his idea of the absurd. Camus’ story The Guest powerfully expresses his thought on these prevailing ideas by his story and descriptions of an open landscape and solitary schoolhouse. In the midst of the vastness and solitude is Daru, the hero of an existentialist world who has stood up against the universe.
To be able to make sense of his characters, one must understand Camus’ philosophy of the world. As an atheist, Camus took a gloomy view of humankind’s condition. His list of favorite words, “the world, suffering, the earth, the mother, men, the desert, honor, misery, summer, the sea,” are closely tied with his understanding of life and the human condition, and nearly all of them appear in the story of The Guest (Bree 83). Profoundly aware of the “unbearable suffering of the world,” Camus believed every artist should make it her business to voice this through her art (Sprintzen vii). Although he scorned the idea of Christian hope, he wanted to show that people can take control of their own circumstances. The Guest presents Camus’ claim that humans can change their condition through acts and his belief in the power of the individual to create her own meaning in a cruel universe.
The story of The Guest tells about Daru, a lonely schoolteacher in Camus’ boyhood home of Algeria. Daru likes living in solitude, but he must learn to recognize that choices are unavoidable and that his choices matter. The story takes place in the middle of the nineteenth century when Algeria is still a land full of strife between the oppressed Algerian people and their French colonial rulers. At the beginning of the story the French send the gendarme, Balducci, whom many consider an existential failure because he is ashamed of his profession but does nothing about it, to Daru with an Arab convicted of murder. Through Balducci the prisoner comes under the charge of Daru, who must choose whether to turn him over to the law or act according to his honor and let him go free. During the Arab’s overnight stay, Daru and his guest develop a bond that teaches Daru about the brotherhood of humankind and his equality with this prisoner, a criminal from a different race.
For an existentialist, Daru’s position is significant; before him lies a morally ambiguous situation and a dilemma he cannot escape. He faces two options: hand his guest over to the authorities and earn the hatred of the Algerian people, or break free from the code of society and help him to go free, gaining him his own people’s displeasure. He agonizes over the decision, but even near the beginning, when he tells Balducci...