Reason for the guilt of the Arab in “The Guest”

May 14, 2008
By Francis Reddish, Braintree, MA

In “The Guest”, a short story which is set in Algeria during a time when the French were attempting to take over northern Africa, a character known only as “the Arab” is to be taken to a prison for killing his cousin by a schoolmaster who has been alone in the schoolhouse due to a blizzard. When the schoolmaster was told of his duty to bring the Arab to the prison he refused to do so because it wasn’t his job. Throughout the story the Arab has various chances to escape. The Arab did not choose freedom; however, he chose to serve his sentence.

Since we are given very little insight into the Arab’s life and personality, we must consider why the Arab mad the choice to indict himself when given the option to go free. Many would assume it was out of fear of being found by the French in the area and objectified to a more serious punishment. Though this is a possibility, it makes little sense due to the fact that the Arab’s name was apparently unknown to the characters in the story as well as the readers. Assuming that his reason was not fear, I concluded that the Arab chose prison because he knew he was guilty of a crime that was unforgivable, and therefore did not feel worthy of freedom. Though one might assume that the crime the Arab ends up feeling guilty about is killing his cousin, when all is considered it is actually the murder of Daru that he will ultimately regret.

Daru, the schoolmaster, did not treat the Arab like a prisoner. Though he did not trust the Arab, Daru did respect him and treat him well. The Arab became confused by certain things Daru did, such as when Daru cooked for the Arab and let him eat first. After the Arab realized that Daru was not a hostile person he asked Daru to go with him to the prison. When this situation came about it seemed purposeless, but in the end it does make sense.

“‘Why did you kill him?’ [Daru] asked in a voice whose hostile tone surprised [the Arab]. The Arab looked away. ‘He ran away. I ran after him.’” The Arab shows his true feelings here by first being surprised by the tone of Daru’s voice, and then by looking away as if to show no remorse for killing his cousin. This is why the Arab is most likely does not feel guilty for the murder he directly committed.

Daru intentionally gave the Arab chances to escape. Many of these situations came up out of convenience, for example: Daru was sleeping the night after the arrival of the Arab, and the Arab went outside. Daru assumed the Arab was running away, but then the Arab came back inside and went back to bed. This was the first chance to escape that the Arab gave up. Later in the story Daru sends the Arab outside while Daru packs food and water for the Arab to take with him where ever he chooses to go. When Daru is going outside to the Arab he hears footsteps in the empty schoolhouse, but he knows that he is the only one inside. After bringing the Arab to a crossroads, Daru leaves him to decide to go to prison or to go free. When he returns to the empty schoolhouse he finds writing on the chalkboard that reads “You handed over our brother. You will pay for this.”
This message was written just before Daru left to walk the Arab to the crossroads, and try to let him go free. The Arab’s decision to not take advantage of his opportunities may have been out of ignorance, but also the fact that he didn’t run away may have been because he felt guilty that Daru was going to die because of the Arab’s assumption that Daru was going to take him to prison. This is why Daru felt guilty, and why he wanted Daru to go with him to the prison. After realizing that he had made a mistake in having Daru killed by his brothers, the Arab tried to save Daru from them by keeping him away from the schoolhouse when they were going to kill him.

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