In Albert Camus’ short story “The Guest,” Camus raises numerous philosophical questions. These are: does man have free will? , are an individual’s decisions affected by what society demands, expects, neither, or both? , and finally, how does moral and social obligation affect decision making? Balducci brings the Arab to Daru’s door, informing Daru that “I have an order to deliver the prisoner and I’m doing so,” (90) thus freeing Balducci of the responsibility over wherever the Arab ultimately ended up.
Balducci didn’t want the responsibility of the Arab possibly escaping, and by doing only as was expressly required of him (delivering the Arab to Daru’s door and giving the orders of the Arab’s destination to Daru), he was also setting the story so that any decision Daru later took was an act of Daru’s alone and was not directly dependent on any other decision another man had made prior. Balducci avoids the social obligation he’s supposed to feel. He should follow through on the prisoner’s handling, but he doesn’t have to.
Balducci knows this, and decides to avoid the effort and instead justifies his leaving the Arab there by simply following his orders and not reading between the lines of the order. After accepting the Arab, Daru was forced to wait for the next day to take the journey to the jail. This presented him with another choice. He could treat the Arab civilly, like a brother, or, he could treat the Arab like an animal (keeping him tied, not giving him a place to rest or a thing to eat). Daru chooses to treat him like a man, even though he didn’t see him as one.
This impression is also given to the reader, the Arab remains “the Arab,” and is not given a name. In the same way we say ‘the car,’ or ‘that dog,’ and mean an object identified only by what class of object it falls under, Camus gives us “the Arab,” leaving us no option but to see the man as simply a small part of a larger Arab nation, and not as a man with a name and a personality all his own. Daru does not know the man’s name, and looks on the prisoner as an object, even, as an animal. Daru “could see nothing but the dark yet shining eyes and the animal mouth,” (92) as the Arab was eating Daru’s flour cake.
So while Daru’s actions were performed for a man (putting away the gun, removing ropes, sharing a meal, giving a bed), his perceptions remained those reserved for animals and objects (including his not asking the prisoner’s name or about his past). By leaving the Arab a non-man, Camus presents a particular predicament-the Arab is not given a personality because that would mean when Daru gave the Arab the choice, Daru’s actions were performed in a vacuum, the Arab’s particular personality had no bearing on whether Daru chose to make options available.
This is also witnessed when Balducci leaves the Arab at Daru’s without ensuring Daru kept up his end of the social bargain. No man lives in a vacuum, but Camus perhaps chooses to write the story this way because he is a philosopher, vacuum-packed characters can give definite conclusions about the possible nature of man as a species, which is one of the philosophers ultimate aims. Over the night, Daru does not actively prevent the prisoner from leaving (the gun is in the drawer and the doors are unlocked. When the Arab awakens to relieve himself,. Daru thinks “He is running away…
Good riddance! ” (93), but the Arab doesn’t take the opportunity: perhaps out of fear of a trap, perhaps for lack of understanding the opportunity presented to him, perhaps because he had decided that he deserved to be punished and was just buying time until his imprisonment (or execution). If Camus truly wanted the Arab to be as ‘the dog,’ it makes sense that the Arab didn’t leave. A dog loyal to his owner won’t run away at every opportunity, congruently, a person loyal to the laws of society shouldn’t disobey them at every presented opportunity, for any reason (barring injustice).
This makes Daru’s motions of presenting the Arab with choice somewhat useless. If the Arab was loyal like a dog, Daru had to reason to even bother leaving the door unlocked, for no dog would have thought of unlocking the door themselves. On the other hand, if Daru is in the center of a vacuum, then it wouldn’t matter who he performs his actions, philosophical conclusions are applied to and drawn from whether he offered the opportunity, regardless of what he offered it to.
The power to make many decisions is rested on all members of society. Some outcomes are predetermined, and which actions are cannot be predicted by any simple rules. Why is it some men think about decisions and some just react to their environment like a glorified plant? Do all men know they have free will and understand what that means? Daru gave a choice to the Arab, was that fair for the Arab (and society) or was it an egotistical action based on what Daru thought was right, fair or just?
Why did the Arab’s ultimate choice depress Daru, and why did neither Balducci or Daru want to be responsible for another man? In the end the Arab really is ‘the dog’ of society. No decision was ever his (from the perspective of the reader and Daru), but still, how do we know if Daru is different? By answering some philosophical questions through use of characters in a vacuum, Camus raises many more questions, which is the modus opernadi of the philosopher: not to find answers, but to ask questions that will eventually have the answers inherent in them
January 9, 2018
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