Morality in Camus’ “The Guest”

Camus, in “Revolution and  Repression in Algeria (1958), writes on the burden of his writing: his words could unknowingly serve as justification to radical commentary or to radical action, especially in the “drama of Algeria” (Camus wrote specifically on the struggle Algeria endured seeking independence from French colonialism). Camus denounces the elitism of ideology and separates himself from those who think “one’s brother must die rather than one’s principles.”

In “The Guest”, a man only referred to as “The Arab”, is arrested and brought to Daru, a local educator, by the Corsican policeman, Balducci. Balducci has been ordered and orders Daru to deliver The Arab to the police. Daru refuses, it is beyond his scope of duty (as a teacher) he says but, Balducci insists that in times of war, one’s duty is one’s country takes on new forms. This painfully reminds me of our current country’s dilemma with equipping teachers with firearms to protect children from school shootings. Is it truly the duty of a teacher to do this, even in the most dire of times? Daru still refuses, though he agrees to sign Balducci’s papers, which passes the responsibility of the prisoner onto Daru.

At night, Daru strips and goes to bed naked. In such an act, he “casts of his armor with his clothing.” Despite knowing The Arab’s crime, he feels compassion and camaraderie: “Men who share the same rooms, soldiers or prisoners, develop a strange alliance.” Camus reinforces the aforementioned idea that one’s brother is above one’s principle. The Arab shot and killed his own cousin. “Why?” Daru asks. He responds: “He ran, I persisted.” Disgusted, Daru still feeds and houses The Arab. Daru desperately wants him to run away (he doesn’t).

Camus argues that it is never justifiable to use wrong means to right ends, not for the sake of efficacy nor for the sake of victory. “Even those fed up with morality ought to realize that it is better to suffer certain injustices than to commit them.” Dar, against his desires, leads the Arab to a plateau. To the east, there is Tinguit, where the police await. To the south, there are the nomads who will shelter him according to their law. Dar hands him provision for two days and one thousand francs. The teacher allows this man to make his own choice.

The Arab walks to Tinguit. Dar returns home. On his chalkboard is written “You handed over our brother. You will pay.” Despite doing the right thing–the teacher could not have made better choices, there were no better alternatives–he is threatened. This messages highlights the burden and responsibility of inevitable misinterpretation, offense, and blame. It is impossible to act and not suffer some recourse. Camus expresses his exasperation: “anyone who does not know the situation…can hardly judge it.” Yet still, the teacher is judged. It seems that there is no winning.

In the worst moral situation, Daru still made choices and accepted responsibility for his choices. He made his positions clear and took noble and fair action. Camus stresses the cases for Moralism, which stresses the values of human courage and individual responsibility. Camus insists that recourse and reprimand, victory and efficacy, are not sufficient excuses. He teaches us through the teacher that we should stand up for our beliefs, pardon those who offend our own, and give others chances, even if no one offers you the same.




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