Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “The Guest" which can be used as essay starters. All four incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Guest” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Guest" in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Topic # 1 Elements of the Absurd in “The Guest"
Albert Camus, sometimes linked with the writer Jean-Paul Satre as an existentialist, actually considered himself an absurdist. This means that Camus believed that it is impossible to find meaning in life. Some elements of the absurd can be found in the story. Some of these are the old gendarme Balducci attempting to force Daru, the school master, to take the Arab prisoner to be jailed. Daru tries to evade this simple choice but is unable to do so. His attempt at non-choice leads him to danger from the Arab’s friends who leave a threatening note on his blackboard. Take one or two other absurd elements from the story and analyze them.
Topic # 2 Fatalistic behavior of the Algerian
In an attempt to make a “non-decision" or an attempt to let the Arab go free, Daru leaves the man on the path and tells him he can go back the way he came from or go on ahead to the jail. Daru, and no less the audience, are shocked when the Arab decides to head toward the jail. Analyze why you think the Arab makes this strange decision.
Topic # 3 Non-decisions as decisions
The school teacher Daru thinks he has a choice to make—to take the Algerian prisoner to his ultimate destination—prison—or to let him go. Rather than make his choice, he tries to foist it back upon the prisoner. Discuss how even Daru’s non-decision is a decision, and how he in any case (as implied in the writing on the blackboard) must pay for being a part of something he did not choose—a French colonialist.
Topic # 4 Multiple layers of meaning within the word “guest"
Analyze Camus’ title “The Guest." In what sense is the Algerian a guest? In what sense are Balducci and Daru guests? Consider taking a bit of time to read about the French colonization of Algeria before you begin to write.
“The Guest" Quotes
“No one in this desert, neither he nor his guest, mattered. And yet, outside this desert neither of them, Daru knew, could have really lived."
This narrator, who is reflecting the character Daru’s state of mind, recalls Sartre’s idea of existentialism—the absurdity of one’s place in the world. Neither Daru nor his guest really have meaningful choices at all.
“On the blackboard the four rivers of France, 1 drawn with four different colored chalks, had been flowing toward their estuaries for the past three days."
This quote describes what would have been a not so subtle reminder to Camus’s original reader of reign of French colonialism that existed, particularly in Algeria, at the time the story was written. Understanding the nature of the French occupation of the North African country is vital to understanding the themes of this important story.
“On that side the school was a few kilometers from the point where the plateau began to slope toward the south. In clear weather could be seen the purple mass of the mountain range where the gap opened onto the desert."
It is important to note that Daru lives on a plateau—above and somewhat between the “no-man’s land" of the Algerians, the desert, and the area where Balducci is transporting the Arab Algerian to the French police station. Daru at least has the illusion that he can see above the fray, that he somehow has a choice as to whether or not to be a colonialist. He does have the privilege of being able to see what comes and goes, the Algerian and Balducci, for example. But he doesn’t have the wisdom or insight to see his own role as a French colonist or anticipate the Algerian’s friends who write a threat on his blackboard.
“In contrast with such poverty, he who lived almost like a monk in his remote school house, nonetheless satisfied with the little he had and with the rough life, had felt like a lord with his whitewashed walls, his narrow couch, his unpainted shelves, his well, and his weekly provision of water and food. And suddenly this snow, without warning, without the foretaste of rain. This is the way the region was, cruel to live in, even without men who didn't help matters either. But Daru had been born here Everywhere else, he felt exiled."
Though Daru has little in the way of earthly comforts, the reader can see that he can’t imagine being outside this element, where he was born. Even though other places, like France, even Paris, might hold all the creature comforts one could bear, Daru’s place is here in his little school with his pupils.
“Daru set the table for two. He took flour and oil, shaped a cake in a frying -pan, and lighted the little stove that functioned on bottled gas. While the cake was cooking, he went out to the shed to get cheese, eggs, dates and condensed milk. When the cake was done he set it on the window sill to cool, heated some condensed milk diluted with water, and beat up the eggs into an omelet. In one of his motions he knocked against the revolver stuck m his right pocket. He set the bowl down, went into the classroom and put the revolver in his desk drawer. When he came back to the room night was falling. He put on the light and served the Arab. ‘Eat,’ he said. The Arab took a piece of the cake, lifted it eagerly to his mouth, and stopped short."
In this passage the reader can see how many details Camus writes to demonstrate the compassion that Daru has for his guest. The Algerian character himself is surprised that Daru chooses to eat after he is finished. This is one passage in which Daru treats the Algerian not as a criminal but as a guest. One must remember, however, that Daru and the other Frenchmen, too, are guests, however unwelcome. Daru occupies an interesting space within the country because he was born there. This puts him in a particularly precarious position in taking sides.
“He listened to that breath so close to him and mused without being able to go to sleep. In this room where he had been sleeping alone for a year, this presence bothered him. But it bothered him also by imposing on him a sort of brotherhood…he knew well but refused to accept in the present circumstances. Men who share the same rooms, soldiers or prisoners, develop a strange alliance as if, having cast off their armor with their clothing, they fraternized every evening…"
As the alleged Algerian murderer slept beside Daru, the schoolteacher is bothered by his breathing. But it isn’t the noise that causes the problem. Rather it is the imposed camaraderie that sleeping under such close contact requires. Again, welcome or not, the Arab is serving as Daru’s guest. Is it any wonder that he asks Daru to accompany him and Balducci to the jail?
“That man's stupid crime revolted him, but to hand him over was contrary to honor. Merely thinking of it made him smart with humiliation. And he cursed at one and the same time his own people who had sent him this Arab and the Arab too who had dared to kill and not managed to get away."
This quote demonstrates the internal struggle that Daru has as he thinks about his situation with the Algerian. It’s as if he feels stuck between “his own people" and the Algerian—both “force" him to attend to a task he finds revolting. One might think that the struggle between the Algerians and the French play out to a certain extent in Daru’s heart.
“Daru took his elbow and turned him rather roughly toward the south. At the foot of the height on which they stood could be seen a faint path. “That's the trail across the plateau. In a day's walk from here you'll find pasturelands and the first nomads. They'll take you in and shelter you according to their law.”
Most of the story is concerned with the mind and behaviors of Daru, the school teacher, but one of the most interesting questions is what is in the mind of the Algerian. Daru carefully packs for him food and sustenance to make either choice a possibility, and displays for him the two choices, yet the Algerian makes the choice most might believe unthinkable. It is also interesting to note to what extent Daru is a part of Algeria himself. He knows the terrain well enough to know where to find the nomads, themselves wanderers, and what their tribal law expects.
“And in that slight haze Daru with heavy heart made out the Arab walking slowly on the road to prison."
If any doubt remained, this quote assures the reader that Daru sincerely wanted the Arab to take the other route, the one back to his people.
“You handed over our brother. You will pay for this.”
These words written on Daru’s chalk board by friends or family of the Algerian illustrate the irony of the story. Daru had really had no choice at all. In avoiding making a choice, fate made one for him.