Read the criticism in this module [below], entitled, "Camus' The Guest: The Inadmissible Complicity" and share your ideas about the criticism

Humanities

English

Santa Monica College

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  • Read the criticism in this module [below], entitled, "Camus' The Guest: The Inadmissible Complicity" and share your ideas about the criticism in a discussion post (you may quote the passage). The post is meant to be a response specifically to THIS CRITICISM. So write a two full paragraphs [or more if you wish] on this criticism [in relation to the play].

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Studies in 20th Century Literature Volume 2 Issue 2 Article 4 1-1-1978 Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity James W. Greenlee Northern Illinois University Follow this and additional works at: https://newprairiepress.org/sttcl Part of the French and Francophone Literature Commons, Modern Literature Commons, and the Philosophy Commons This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License. Recommended Citation Greenlee, James W. (1978) "Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity," Studies in 20th Century Literature: Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 4. https://doi.org/10.4148/2334-4415.1052 This Article is brought to you for free and open access by New Prairie Press. It has been accepted for inclusion in Studies in 20th Century Literature by an authorized administrator of New Prairie Press. For more information, please contact cads@k-state.edu. Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity Abstract Early analyses of Camus' tale, "The Guest," generally reflect the political tensions that rent Algeria in the 1950's. Since these tensions have disappeared, we are able to read the tale as a personal drama recounting the moral dilemma of its, narrator-protagonist. Scrutiny of his censored account reveals his retreat from an action which would compromise his innocence. The story registers the author's awareness of the ambiguities of moral decision and testifies to the refinement of his thought since the composition of The Plague. Keywords Albert Camus, L'Hôte, The Guest, morality, complicity This article is available in Studies in 20th Century Literature: https://newprairiepress.org/sttcl/vol2/iss2/4 Greenlee: Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity CAMUS' "GUEST": THE INADMISSIBLE COMPLICITY JAMES W. GREENLEE Northern Illinois University The twenty years since the initial publication of Exile and the Kingdom (1957) have seen North Africa progress from revolution to stability. The political unrest that, already in 1954, had inspired Camus' provocative tale, "The Guest" has calmed. No longer do its allusions to an impending colonial war lend it any force; nor, on the other hand, do the now outdated political references deprive it of any strength. Having lost much of its political relevance, it survives into the nineteen-seventies on the strength of the author's success in communicating the moral dilemma of his protagonist. And, it might be added, appreciation of the style and characterization of "The Guest," perhaps more than that of the other tales of the collection, benefits from the loss of its political content. Now it is possible to see the delicate halftones that capture the indecision of its protagonist, the master of the isolated school charged with delivering an Arab to prison for trial, and possible execution. His drama can be understood through a systematic analysis of the narration which so scrupulously respects the point of view of the narrator that what he censors out of his account and how he reacts reveal as much as his observations. Camus' tale, it is appropriate to note, has provoked enough study that one should not expect to find an original interpretation in another analysis of the narrative. The numerous articles, largely dating from the time of the Algerian War, have identified the numerous themes of the story.2 In them, students of Camus acknowledge that the "ambiguity" of the tale invites and, in fact, justifies multiplicity of interpretations.3 But scrutiny of the narrative technique can strip away much of the alleged ambiguity. It indicates first that the author had a specific view of his character through whom he portrays, with neither criticism nor approval, 1 - -a 127 Published by New Prairie Press 1 Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature, Vol. 2, Iss. 2 [1978], Art. 4 128 STCL, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 1978) the anxieties of one seeking to preserve his sense of innocence in a concrete political situation. In addition, it reveals a most felicitous wedding of style and subject: what had been seen as the writer's intentional ambiguity appears as the carefully controlled expression of the character's moral dilemma. The passage of time permits the story to be read without reference to the background political situation. It now can be seen to treat the problem that arises when duty conflicts with personal ideals. Camus' third-person narrative begins by situating its protagonist atop a snow-covered plateau. Respect for the limits of the character's perception is evident from the first account of two men approaching his isolated schoolhouse, a silent tableau since distance prevents the schoolmaster Daru from hearing the sounds of the horse's hooves or hearing its labored breathing.4 Camus' use of the visual image throughout the story has been interpreted as an indication of his characters' isolation and of their inability to communicate. s More significant, however, in the early paragraphs is the indication that the story is seen through Daru's eyes and that all events of the narrative are subject to his interpretation and censure. The story, then, is not about the arriving "guest," as the English translation of the intentionally ambiguous title, "L'hOte," suggests. Its subject is instead the host who, more than an actor in the account is, in Wayne C. Booth's words, "a thirdperson centre of consciousness through whom authors filter their narrative." 6 Because the character merely registers rather than interprets or reports the events in which he is involved, he cannot properly be called a narrator. Still that is a convenient term to which Booth's concept can be assigned in the absence of a better word in order to discuss Daru. Camus' narrator is engrossed in the events registered through his sensitivities. No critical distance intrudes between his perception and the account of the events in which he is also involved as an actor. Consequently, his viewpoint introduces no authorial criticism into the story. To evaluate Daru's experience, the reader must exercise the detachment Camus' actor-narrator does not enjoy. This is but the first burden the author imposes on his reader; the second is to assess Daru's reliability as a narrator and this is perhaps the more difficult burden. Since Daru remains well within the framework of the action he perceives, the limits of his - https://newprairiepress.org/sttcl/vol2/iss2/4 DOI: 10.4148/2334-4415.1052 2 Greenlee: Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity 129 perception are not evident. The reader is required to reconstruct for himself the character's motivation, adding to what Daru registers what he avoids acknowledging. The schoolmaster's narrative continues with the account of his emotions as he awaits his vistors' arrival. He reflects on his life in the desert, a life of monastic self-denial: "In contrast with such poverty, he who lived almost like a monk in his remote schoolhouse, nonetheless satisfied with the little he had and with the rough life, and 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" (p. 88). The use of the word monk characterizes the austerity of the existence that the schoolmaster has willingly accepted in the desert. Daru's meditation reveals, however, the satisfaction he derives from aiding the Kabyle farmers to survive in the face of the desert's hostility. That Daru also feels like a lord registers that satisfaction. It involves more than his rudimentary comforts. The reader has already learned that this benevolent lord distributes food to the destitute inhabitants of what might be considered as his domain. Rather than feeling an aristocratic revulsion before the spectacle of their misery, Daru is sympathetic: "... it would be hard to forget that poverty, that army of ragged ghosts wandering in the sunlight, the plateaus burned to a cinder month after month, the earth shriveled up little by little, literally scorched, every stone bursting into dust under one's foot" (pp. 87-88). He then recalls that, after his military service, he had requested an assignment to a teaching post in the desert. And later he observes, "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" (p. 98). He associates life on the desert with its severity and misery. But, at the same time, he communicates in his detailed description of the desert his affection for his isolated domain (pp. 92, 97, 104). And since he enjoys his monastic comforts, his choice to live in the desert can scarcely be explained as mortification of the flesh. His respect for life and hatred of killing (p. 93) point to an emotional need that he can satisfy in this region where the hostility of the universe is represented by nature's severity. Only the desire to aid his fellowman can explain Daru's choice to engage in this struggle against an impersonal, natural enemy. Here, in the iso- Published by New Prairie Press 3 Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature, Vol. 2, Iss. 2 [1978], Art. 4 STCL, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 1978) 130 lation of the desert, he can realize the satisfactions of nobility and, at the same time, place himself on the "victim's side." Like Tarrou, the character of The Plague who sought to be a saint in a godless universe, he can throw himself with zeal into a conflict against an unquestionable non-human evil. But unlike the saint of The Plague, he refers to himself by the feudal title of lord. Its political associations announce that the saint of this story will confront a situation in which evil is identified with human, social antagonisms such is the role that his position as schoolmaster and official representative of the French colonial government imposes on him. The arrival of the gendarme Balducci, then, projects Dam into a drama which requires an unavoidable compromise of his innocence. Upon his arrival at the school, the gendarme informs Daru that his Arab prisoner has killed a man and that the schoolmaster will have to escort him to the prison twenty kilometers across the desert. Following his initial gestures of fraternity toward the Arab, Daru's sentiments undergo a rapid transformation as he becomes conscious of the responsibility imposed upon him. His resentment of man's "insane" thirst for blood attests first to an abstract moral indignation: "Daru felt a sudden wrath against the man, against all men with their rotten spite, their tireless hates, their blood lust" (p. 93). Then, preparing to depart, Balducci offers the schoolmaster a revolver and sympathetically observes that he too dislikes taking a prisoner to execution. Daru now realizes that he may have a role in a man's death; he vehemently refuses to deliver the prisoner (p. 95). And the reader can see what the character does not admit: that he becomes angry as soon as his purity and peace of mind are threatened. At this point, the elements of the drama are fixed. The remainder of the story recounts the schoolmaster's futile efforts to avoid compromising his innocence. Obscurities are frequent as the character refuses to interpret his observations or emotions. The representation of the gendarme's departure, watched by Daru through the classroom window until Balducci disappears beneath the edge of the plateau, reminds the reader that he is seeing the story through the eyes of its protagonist. The narrative now begins to function on a second level as an index to Daru's sensibilities. Thus, with a series of gestures which testify to his - https://newprairiepress.org/sttcl/vol2/iss2/4 DOI: 10.4148/2334-4415.1052 4 Greenlee: Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity 131 repressed emotions, Daru leaves the unbound Arab and retreats to his room: Dam walked back toward the prisoner, who, without stirring, never took his eyes off him. 'Wait,' the schoolmaster said in Arabic and went toward the bedroom. As he was going through the door, he had a second thought, went to the desk, took the revolver, and stuck it in his pocket. Then, without looking back, he went into his room. (pp. 96-97) Dam avoids analyzing his feelings but he reports the gestures they elicit. Only under scrutiny do they betray a hope to escape his onerous burden. First, refusal to leave the revolver in the classroom with the Arab indicates an understandable distrust of the accused murderer. But this distrust is not without its limits: Daru does not bind his prisoner. Secondly, Daru's refusal to stay in the classroom with the Arab or to invite him into the living quarters suggests an aversion. Again this emotion stands in opposition to the solicitude shown the Arab upon his arrival. These inconsistencies can be reconciled when emotions rise to the surface, as they do in the next episode. In the solitude of his room, Daru withdraws into the more comforting thoughts of man's struggle against the desert. Once his thoughts return to the present, he discovers with astonished pleasure that the Arab may have escaped and spared him his responsibility. When he got up, no noise came from the classroom. He was amazed at the unmixed joy he derived from the mere thought that the Arab might have fled and that he would be alone with no decision to make. But the prisoner was there. He had merely stretched out between the stove and the desk. (p. 98) The rapid transition from joy to disappointment, punctuated by but and merely, is not investigated. Instead, Daru busies himself with the preparation of the meal and the bed. When the chores are finished, he self-consciously registers an uneasiness that he also avoids analyzing: "There was nothing more to do or to get ready. He had to look at this man" (pp. 99-100). When projected against the Arab, this discomfort is translated into hostility. Published by New Prairie Press 5 Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature, Vol. 2, Iss. 2 [1978], Art. 4 STCL, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 1978) 132 More elements of Daru's drama come to the surface through what appears first to be his unexpected revulsion at the Arab's crime hardly a reaction that should have astonished Daru. But this astonishment betrays a different, less noble motive which the reader must surmise by filling in the gaps of the narrative. Daru's account shows an effort to occupy himself with less perplexing thoughts but no effort to understand the Arab's feelings; his conversation reveals a refusal to become involved in the drama of his unwanted guest. The Arab briefly explains how he killed, then asks, "Now what will they do to me?" (p. 100). Unresponsive to the questions and gestures that betray the Arab's fear, Daru reports only his own emotions to the reader an unexplained hostility and an undefined uneasiness in the presence of the Arab. The Arab's efforts to continue the conversation convey his hope for the protection of the Europeans. He concludes with a request that Daru accompany him and, presumably, the gendarme to the prison at Tinguit. The narrator provides no explanation for this question, answering it only with an evasive "why?" which he repeats with an authoritarian emphasis. The Arab's response is the supplication, "Come with us" (p. 101). What Daru interprets as the Arab's incomprehansion paradoxically registers his own. Through this misunderstanding, Camus points to a lacuna in the narrative, prodding the reader to interpret anxieties that the schoolmaster refuses to acknowledge. The reader needs no special familiarity with the brutality of Arab tribal law to see that the prisoner's fear is not of European justice. He expects his European host, native to the region, to understand his fear of punishment at the hands of those who would avenge his - - 8 victim. Daru, however, shows himself to be insensitive to his prisoner's fears: if he is to retain his sense of innocence, he cannot admit that capture will lead to the cruel death the Arab anticipates. To avoid this admission, he must disregard the anxiety that distorts his ward's face and gestures. Consequently, Daru's account cannot be expected to confirm this interpretation; but the next episode reveals the same intentions still unacknowledged by Daru to erect a barrier between himself and his prisoner. As he lies in bed, Daru imagines the Arab as an adversary challenging his serenity. But of more significance is the psychological mechanism that permits him to avoid facing his own mo- - https://newprairiepress.org/sttcl/vol2/iss2/4 DOI: 10.4148/2334-4415.1052 - 6 Greenlee: Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity Camus' "Guest": The Inadmissible Complicity 133 tives. He blames himself, not for any dereliction, but for his silly thoughts: 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, over and above their differences, in the ancient community of dream and fatigue. But Daru shook himself; he didn't like such musings, and it was essential to sleep. (p. 102). As the night passes, he lies awake listening for his prisoner's movements. When the Arab finally stirs, his first thoughts are for his own safety. Then, as the Arab opens the door to leave, Dam notes his relief that his ward has finally left, "Good riddance! " (p. 103). Remembering perhaps his ealier disappointment, when the Arab did not take advantage of an opportunity to escape, he listens now for confirmation only to hear that the Arab has stepped out to urinate. He resigns himself to his responsibility and to sleep without admitting his frustration nor trying to explain why the prisoner refused an opportunity to escape. Shortly afterward, his account will provide an explanation: "Still later he seemed, from the depth of his sleep, to hear furtive steps around the schoolhouse" (pp. 103-104). Mindless of his prisoner's peril and without making any effort to verify his conjecture, the negligent warden dismisses the footsteps as a dream and goes on sleeping (p. 104). When he awakens his ward for breakfast the next morning, the Arab's anxiety is translated by a startled recoil. Following a silent meal, Dam finds more pleasant thoughts to occupy his mind until the Arab's cough reminds him of his charge. With the approach of the moment of decision, Daru's resentment grows. His anger erodes the patina of moral indignation that concealed his selfish hope of remaining innocent of anyone's death. Childishly, then, he condemns those who have imposed this burden on him, those whom he sees as directly responsible for his discomfort. Only secondarily does he condemn the Arab not for his crime, but only for being so clumsy as to be caught and thereby creating this responsibility. The crime is now seen from the perspective of an - Published by New Prairie Press 7 Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature, Vol. 2, Iss. 2 [1978], Art. 4 STCL, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 1978) 134 unwilling actor almost desperately trying to avoid compromising the ideals that initially brought him to the aid of the desert nomads: At that moment, from the other side of the schoolhouse, the prisoner coughed. Dam listened to him almost despite himself and then, furious, threw a pebble that whistled through the air before sinking into the snow. 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. (p. 105) Camus already made known h ...
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