Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

28 Oct 2011

(Short Story) The Guest by: Albert Camus

(Reaction) Men of Honor by: Antonio Conejos

It's conventional wisdom that listening to the dictates of your conscience leads to ultimately beneficial outcomes. People who live by an honorable code of conduct are lauded for their integrity and resilience. Yet the real world cares little about rewarding such honor. Camus's The Guest explores how freedom and honor conspire to ironically trap two well-meaning men.

The first man is Daru, the schoolmaster who lives alone in his school house surrounded by magnificent austerity. For days, still, the unchanging sky would shed its dry light on the solitary expanse where nothing had any connection with man. This is a desolate place but the schoolmaster feels affinity with it, Everywhere else, he felt exiled.

Amidst this stillness though, the outside world intrudes in the form of the second man; the Arab who Daru is tasked to escort to prison. The schoolmaster opines that the Arab's treatment is unjust, Daru still had his obstinate look. Later he puts his opposition into words, every bit of this disgusts me, and first of all your fellow here. But I won't hand him over.

In time this reluctance to carry out the order will blossom into rebellion against it. Daru believes imprisoning the Arab is wrong, and thus allows the prisoner every opportunity to escape. The school master even goes as far as to provide the Arab with provisions and the direction of sanctuary.

Yet the Arab too is bound by a code of conduct which he cannot break. Even without Daru, the Arab makes his way voluntarily to prison. Thus, The Guest details how each man's honor traps them into the paths they must take.

The apathy of the setting - its desolation and remoteness - further emphasizes that the central conflict in The Guest is an internal struggle occurring inside each man. Each is struggling to decide what to do about the other. Amidst this internal conflict is the indifference of the world outside, This is the way the region was, cruel to live in, even without men - who didn't help matters either. This inhospitable environ seems to mock men's notions of honor and duty, of right and wrong.


Has the same tone, free but doomed/doomed because one is free, that I found in many of Camus's more well known works such as The Plague, The Stranger and The Fall. While this is a ponderous theme its treatment doesn't feel heavy. Camus deftly weaves together notes of isolation, honor, human decency, duty and burden into a coherent piece about men who are trapped because of who they are and the values they refuse to surrender.

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