Daru’s Indecision in The Guest
The backbone of existentialism states that individuals are just that-individual, unique, independently conscious beings; rather than the varied labels, stereotypes, or any arbitrary preconceived notions that the individuals may fit into, the manifold idiosyncrasies and “actual life” of the person constitute the individual, and therefore, lead them to find their own values and create their own meaning to life. In “The Guest”, Albert Camus explores this, the human condition, by positing that despair is a human state rather than a specific act, and that this despair emerges out of isolation. The story tracks Daru’s deep regression towards indecision against the backdrop of his seclusion.
Daru’s isolation is clear from the beginning of the story. He is alone on a hill, watching over the horsebound rider and his straggling prisoner. From descriptions such as “empty, frigid classroom” and “ high, deserted plateau” and even the fact that his “twenty pupils…had stopped coming”, it is apparent that Daru has been alone for days. Yet we cannot equate being alone to being lonely; Daru considers that “Everywhere else, he felt exiled” turning his state of seclusion to a means of self-sufficiency. When Daru returns to the classroom the narrator describes the four rivers of France that are drawn on the blackboard. This is the introduction of the political and cultural currents that are one of the main foundations of the story. Written at the onset of the Algerian uprising against the French, the tension between the Arab culture and the ruling French creates much distress in the story. Those the European Algerians and the Arabs share the same harsh climate, the political and cultural tension between them prevents any feelings of camaraderie.
When the visitors arrive, Daru inquires about the Arab prisoner as to the nature of his crime. All he gleans from Balducci is that the Arab killed his brother; Daru scrutinizes the Arab and notices everything from his clothing to his demeanor, but Daru is frustrated by the indeterminacy of the prisoner’s motivations, past actions, and guilt, placing him in a moral quandary. Even the reader is allowed only cursory details about the Arab, thereby creating a moral grey area. This leads to Balducci and Daru’s confrontation, which makes up most of the story.
The Absurdist movement came to life when Existentialism was still in its infancy, and it marked a middling philosophy in between the two extremes of existentialism and nihilism. The ‘Absurd’ refers to the contradiction between the human tendency to want to find meaning and the equally human inability to find any. Camus’ philosophy of the ‘Absurd’ integrates the theme of freedom, and this is the subject of Balducci and Daru’s conversation. Daru preserves his ability to make his own decision in face of Balducci’s orders, and in turn, Balducci honors that choice. In fact, Daru already seems to have made his choice as to the Arab’s freedom when he unties the Arab’s hands and serves him tea.
After Balducci’s departure, Daru notices the silence and the solitude of his surroundings. The sky seems to “close over” and the only plowing to be done is the plowing of rocks. He ponders the joy he would feel if the Arab had escaped and the decision to liberate or to incarcerate was no longer his to make. Meanwhile, the Arab is eating food that Daru has set out for him and proves himself to be an extremely ambiguous and complicated character. He offers no answers nor any clarity as to the nature of his crime, leaving Daru stranded in a moral no man’s land. Daru’s inability to make a decision reflects back onto his struggle with the Absurd; he wants to find some logical reasoning so his conscience will better be at ease, but fails to find any.
In the end, Daru cannot make his own decision and instead passes it onto the prisoner, showing him both south and east. There is some ambiguity here as to whether the prisoner even understood Daru: “The Arab took the package and the money but kept his full hands at chest level as if he didn’t know what to do with what was being given him.” Daru’s return journey home does not evoke the same tone as before-the landscape he had loved so much now feels foreign, tainted with the memory of his recent moral enigma. Camus deliberately ambiguates the author of the words on the chalkboard. Perhaps it was Daru himself, overridden with guilt at a decision that he did not make, or maybe it was the Arab’s friends, silently watching the schoolhouse. Whomever the authors are, they are in a position to pass judgement onto Daru, not knowing his internal conflict-all the circumstances indicate that they will likely not be so ambiguous as he was.
Camus, Albert. The Guest. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1990. Print.
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