The Guest, or L'Hote, is considered one of Camus's most important works of fiction. It was published in 1957 as part of the collection titled, Exile and the Kingdom. The Guest touches on many of Camus's major moral and philosophical ideas. It is also concerned with important colonial issues of the period. He worked on the story during the years leading up to the Algerian War that broke out in 1954. Camus was careful to avoid worsening the tensions between the French and Arab Algerians through the portrayal of his characters, and as a result the story went through multiple revisions. As a result of these revisions, the narrative grew more ambiguous, specifically in the portrayal of the Arab.
The events in the story take place at the outset of the Algerian War. They follow the schoolmaster Daru as he faces the moral dilemma of what to do with an Arab prisoner who has been delivered to him by a gendarme named Balducci. The story is primarily about the problematic nature of having a prisoner in one's home, and thematizes aspects of Algerian culture and free will.
The Guest is a very ambiguous narrative, and leaves the reader grappling with several mysteries in terms of the plot: Is the Arab even guilty? Who writes the words on the blackboard? Are Daru and the Arab being watched by his brothers, and if so, why do they decide not to save him? Finally, why does the Arab choose imprisonment?
One of the major themes of The Guest is the problem of partial knowledge. Daru struggles to reach a judgment on the Arab because he knows nothing about him. In the end, he transfers to the prisoner the power of free choice, and this leaves him with a moral burden. The impossibility of attaining complete knowledge is a major frustration for Daru, as well as for the Arab. The Arab wants to know what will happen to him.
Likewise, Camus leaves the reader with several uncertainties, and readers must analyze the story with these in mind. There is no real logic in the narrative, no definite principles or guidelines with which to understand the events that take place. The only meaning comes from the events that occur, and this is for a large part left up to the reader. Camus saw the world as an illogical place, and believed that people find meaning through their freedom to choose despite the absurdity that surrounds them. The Guest captures the struggle to choose in morally ambiguous conditions. Daru's fails to choose whether to turn the Arab over to authorities or let him go, and this failure results in moral despair and total isolation.