Daru faces a moral dilemma when he is ordered to turn in the Arab. Like all the themes in the narrative, morality is treated with ambiguity. Daru's course of action leads him into moral trouble: he does not know whether the Arab deserves to be punished or let go, and he allows this uncertainty to overwhelm him. He fails to choose at all, instead allowing the Arab to choose either freedom or trial. Daru's ensuing moral despair should be understood in the light of Camus's philosophy. Camus believed that once a decision was reached, it should be stuck to, and that the freedom to choose one's action gives meaning to human life. Daru certainly believes that turning in the Arab was wrong, yet he fails to simply release the prisoner. He fails to make a decision, and as a result he is left in complete moral solitude.
There are two kinds of solitude in The Guest. Throughout the story Daru faces physical isolation on his the remote plateau. This physical solitude is not a negative state, however; Daru has accepted his living conditions and indeed feels at home within them. Though the landscape itself is unfeeling and unforgiving, Daru makes himself comfortable within it.
At the end however, Daru occupies a state of moral solitude. His failure to act with regard to the Arab's fate has left him disconnected from himself. He looks at the harsh landscape, once his home, and sees only his failure to choose. This moral solitude is most clearly symbolized by the mysterious writing on the blackboard. If he wrote it himself, it represents his despair and his alienation from himself -- he has betrayed his own principles in allowing the Arab to choose punishment. If someone else wrote it, it represents a clear threat. Daru, who failed to use judgement, will now be judged by others who do not understand him. Thus his situation is one of extreme isolation from human understanding.
Freedom lies at the core of The Guest, and is inherently connnected with the human right to choose a course of action. Freedom gives life meaning, and Camus believed that through independent action one finds value in life. The narrative represents this philosophy. Daru's choice to live in the plateau region is a choice motivated out of what Camus would call an understanding of the "absurd." Any human needs to belong to a place, and the cruel plateau region embodies a type of home for him despite its desolate climate. Just so, Camus feels, we all need to make a home for ourselves within an essentially uncaring universe. The way we make this home is through individual choice.
However, the freedom to choose is also paradoxically an obligation. When we decide not to choose we fall victim to the essential cruelty and ambiguity of the universe. Indeed, we cannot decide not to choose -- we must choose in order to retain freedom. Daru attempts to pass along his obligation to choose to the Arab. However, when the Arab decides to turn himself in, Daru suffers for it. Daru should have made a decision, one way or the other, and stuck with it. Instead, he finds himself in a state of desperate moral ambiguity.
Limits of Human Knowledge
Everyone in The Guest has limited knowledge of the happenings of the story. Balducci doesn't know why the Arab killed his cousin, or why Daru must take the Arab to the police; he simply has his orders and follows them. Daru doesn't know whether the Arab should be released or punished, though he constantly tries to glean information about why the Arab committed murder -- if he even did. Meanwhile, the Arab displays confusion when Daru asks him difficult questions and when Daru explains his choice to either escape to the south or turn himself into the police.
The reader, too, occupies a limited vantage point. We never learn whether the Arab deserves punishment or freedom. We never learn who wrote the message on the blackboard at the end of the story. Camus denies us crucial knowledge, thus putting us in a similar position to Daru -- or to any individual who must make choices despite his or her limited perspective.
And indeed, we all must do so every day, though rarely in the dramatic fashion Camus sets up in The Guest. Because human knowledge is always subjectively situated -- that is, it always happens from a particular individual's point-of-view -- it's always going to be limited. If we let this fact haunt us, the way that Daru does, we open ourselves up to moral despair. However, if we make choices anyway and own our choices, we may avoid such despair. Daru becomes preoccupied with the limitations of his knowledge and thus fails to choose -- opening the door to despair.
Camus envisions the universe as silent and indifferent (his portrayal of the cruel plateau region fits this vision very neatly). Despite this indifference, human beings must survive. They continue to build meaning and pursue certainty, even though such aims are impossible. This combination of a godless, uncaring world and human striving leads to a condition that Camus dubs "the absurd." He writes, "The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world."
Although it might sound pretty depressing to live in an inescapable state of "the absurd," Camus feels that this is the only way we can exist. One must continue striving, choosing and pursuing freedom, even though the universe does not care whether we live or die. Daru's ability to find comfort and within the harsh plateau climate bodes well for his ability to sustain life in absurd conditions; however, his failure to respond to the moral dilemma represented by the Arab ultimately crushes him. In the face of ambiguity and uncertainty, one must act with an absurd confidence. One must choose anyway. Daru fails to do so, and thus falls into despair.
The Guest Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Guest is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The landscape at this remote plateau in Algeria is windswept and barren. The tone of this landscape is one of solitude. Throughout the story Daru faces physical isolation on his the remote plateau. This physical solitude is not a negative state,...