You are on page 1of 8

c  



.

Daru leads the horse to the shed. Daru had only left the schoolhouse to feed the chickens or go to the shed. The remarks to himself that the weather is much better now than it had been the three previous days. He finally greets them on the terrace. Daru thinks. are unable to attend classes. and he surmises that one of the men knows the way. as there are bags of wheat strewn about the room. which is the nearest village to the north. now the worst is over. Luckily. during the blizzard. only heating the small adjacent room that serves as his living quarters. so Daru's pupils. The two advance slowly so that the Arab will not be hurt. he was surrounded by utter poverty. the natives of the region had wandered the plateau like ghosts. and then returns to the two men. theyir families will miss the food. can't hear any sound.       á  begins with Daru. men died once and a while too. Daru again does not respond. even in the absence of men. Although he lives a quite spartan life. but merely continues to watch them climb. his home. and calculates that it will take thirty minutes for them to reach the point where he stands on the hillside. As a result. He stands in front of the schoolhouse. watching two men approach on the plateau below him. specifically the Arab. His hands are tied and his head lowered. Daru gives the rations of flour to the children each day. Now that the pupils are not attending classes. We learn from the narrator that Daru could have survived a siege. the supply truck from Tadjid. all of whom live on the plateau. Daru crosses the empty classroom and notes the blackboard. Now. are now inside. and he feels exiled anywhere else. After an eight-month draught October brought a sudden snowfall. but the schoolmaster is lost in his 'contemplation' of the Arab. He can see the horse's breath. which has a drawing of the four rivers of France on it. still has not raised his head. the draught had been hard on everyone living on the plateau. Balducci greets Daru. Balducci yells a remark about how long the journey took from El Ameur. had come two days before the blizzard. Before the blizzard. They all occupy . One man rides a horse and the other follows on foot. Daru keeps the classroom cold. A thin layer of snow has covered the trail. Daru had felt like a lord in his crude living arrangements. He can no longer see the approaching men. He expects some of the pupils' older brothers or fathers to show up for a ration of grain. the two men are halfway up the slope. During the draught. He recognizes the man on the horse as Balducci. an old gendarme he has known for a long time. Daru goes out to the terrace at the front of the school house. and wheat arrives from France. Balducci leads an Arab by a rope. Yet Daru was born here. For those days. the schoolmaster. and thousands of sheep had died. Daru returns to the window. and invites them into the schoolhouse. After warming up in his room. Unfortunately. the snow is a reminder of the cruelty of this region. and he assumes they have begun to ascend the plateau. During the draught. These were brought by the administrative authorities.

Daru waves him away. The gendarme calls him a fool. He agrees that it is unfortunate. Daru thinks that the Arab has a restless and rebellious look when they make eye contact. The gendarme feels insulted by Daru's disobedience. Balducci sympathizes. but the story nevertheless embodies Camus's view of the human condition. and philosophical beliefs were still developing when he wrote á  . He is concerned about a revolution. the story examines each of these needs -. He tells Daru that he likes him.Daru's living quarter and Daru decides to heat the classroom. The Arab drinks the tea feverishly. He views them dispassionately from his distance atop the plateau. Balducci decides not to tell anyone about Daru's disobedience. and Balducci nods. and Daru asks Balducci where the two travelers are headed. The Arab crouches near the stove.' The schoolmaster watches him leave. Daru seems capable of carrying on indefinitely. He looks at the Arab. Balducci says that he must return to El Ameur. Daru state of isolation is obvious from the start as he watches two strangers approach. but Daru proclaims that he has no fear. and explains that he is needed back at El Ameur because they only have a dozen men to patrol the territory. This surprises Daru. Balducci tells Daru that the Arab killed his own cousin over a family squabble. calling him 'son. Daru asks if the Arab is against them. His state of isolation is thus a state of self-sufficiency. Camus agreed with Kierkegaard that despair is not an act. moral. He saw this state of despair resulting from isolation from the rest of the world. but asks him to sign a paper. but points out that the orders still exist. where he is expected at police headquarters. Balducci leaves Daru a gun. where they will be more comfortable. Indeed.the bags of grain in the classroom. Balducci mentions that he's looking forward to his retirement. Daru has been alone for days. but a human state. After untying the rope that connects him to the Arab. He is even grateful for his situation compared with the poverty and hunger of the natives of the plateau. . Daru says that he will wait for a declaration of war. leaving the Arab alone. He speaks to the Arab in Arabic. Balducci prepares to leave. but says that Daru's task is an order and that during war people must be prepared to face many types of jobs. as long as his basic needs of shelter. He looks toward the window. and then says goodbye to Daru. Daru brings mint tea and unties the Arab. and then return without delay. and that Daru has been ordered to deliver the Arab to Tinguit. Balducci warns Daru that he should be armed in the case of an uprising. food and warmth are met. who follows him into the classroom with his hands still tied. unable even to recognize his friend. yet he is not necessarily lonely. á  charts Daru's journey into a state of moral despair against the backdrop of his solitude. but insists that it is their duty. and Daru notices his thick lips. the warmth of Daru's small lodgings or his need for a sweater while watching the two men.    Camus's political. He has been ordered to bring the prisoner to Daru. and then retreats to his room. Daru serves more tea. but Balducci does not think so. but as he's leaving Daru tells him that he will not hand over the Arab. Balducci sits on the sofa. but when he approaches the Arab to bind him.

Needless to say. Daru's schoolhouse. Their interaction makes up a majority of the dialogue in the story. However. the Arab's freedom is a much thornier issue. Written at the onset of the Algerian uprising against the French. Nature also behaves very irrationally. as illustrated when he unbinds the Arab's hands and gives him tea. the political and cultural tension between them prevents any feelings of camaraderie. it is simply cruel: "This is the way the region was. but once he has found warmer clothes he can no longer see them from the window. it is the only bond uniting them. and the contains indiginous settlements. Daru will never have enough knowledge about the Arab to pass judgment on him. "The absurd is not in man or in the world. The Arab is carried out of his cultural mileau -. nature finally supplies water in the absurd form of snow. Europe lies to the north.. the tension between the Arab culture and the ruling French creates much distress in the story. Daru maintains his freedom to make his own decision. cruel to live in. their understanding follows from their political affiliation. By itself.and forced to submit to a European justice system. has windows that look towards the south.. but combined with human need." One of many examples of humans struggling to survive in the harsh natural conditions is Daru's recollection of the starving people wandering the plateau during the draught. Camus sees an individual's freedom to choose as something that gives value to life. even without men. "The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This is the introduction of the political and cultural currents that are one of the main foundations of the story.. Within the state of the absurd. and revolves primarily around the orders that Balducci delivers. He says. The plateau will not help them. where he also lives. his guilt or innocence are all indeterminate. He notices everything from the Arab's clothes to his demeanor. the south represents the Arab territories. Those the European Algerians and the Arabs share the same harsh climate. The interaction between Balducci and Daru stresses the importance of freedom. . Nature's ice and snow makes an already difficult trek all the more treacherous. At the end of the story he looks to the south hoping to see the Arab traveling in that direction and these windows foreshadow the hope to see such a sight in the south. and Balducci honors Daru's choice. The land is not giving or forgiving. Daru immediately scrutinizes the Arab for clues as to his crime. We thus experiece Daru's ensuing moral quandary along with him. The theme of freedom is an integral part of Camus's 'absurdist' philosophy. where the universe is completely silent and indifferent towards humanity. these weather conditions are simply a fact of nature. After an eight-month draught. the extremity represents Camus's idea of the absurd. The Arab's motivations. Daru seems predisposed to grant the Arab freedom from the beginning.away from his family and his local customs -. yet he can never truly "know" the Arab with certainty. When Daru returns to the classroom the narrator describes the four rivers of France that are drawn on the blackboard. as when the two men are forced to navigate the hill without the guide of a path. his thoughts reveal the characteristics of the region." Camus regularly suggests this natural harshness. but in their presence together.. over the sea. Through freedom of action an individual can find meaning in an otherwise meaningless and indifferent world. This view to the south is where he first spots the two men. his past actions. The inhospitable terrain that dominates the plateau represents Camus's notion of the absurd." He creates a representation of the absurd by joining extreme physical conditions with basic human survival needs.While Daru waits for the two men to reach the schoolhouse. For now. When the visitors arrive. the reader is also allowed only partial knowledge of the Arab.

He sets the table for two and makes them a meal. feeling that their closeness imposed a form of brotherhood on him that he refuses to accept. He also asks him if he is sorry for the murder. They leave the schoolhouse and begin moving east. yet they do not belong anywhere else. Balducci speaks of a revolution. and Daru prepares a small packet of food. Throughout. but holds them at chest height as if he has no idea what they signify. which clearly references the Algerian uprising. however. Daru goes into the classroom and brings the Arab back into the bedroom. These memories of the previous night make him feel vulnerable. restoring Daru to the present. to which the Arab responds vaguely. The prisoner coughs. Thus the problem of partial knowledge that pervades the story influences even Camu's writing style. Then he goes out into the terrace and observes the plateau. he's uncomfortable with the presence of the Arab in the room. Camus uses free indirect style to enhance ambiguity and uncertainty in the narrative. and is revolted by his crime. In the dark he asks his prisoner why he killed his cousin. and so discussion of this rebellion certainly implicates Camus's ideas on freedom. He recalls how hard the silence and solitude of the plateau had been for him when he first arrived. Daru and the Arab put their clothing on. The prisoner takes the gifts. yet he feels that turning him in to the authorities would be a dishonorable act. In the morning he wakes the Arab and they eat breakfast. The Arab wants to know what will happen to him. at times appearing inseparable. He cleans the room and puts the bed away. The Algerian War displaced millions of people against their will. The Arab wants to know what they will do to him. The Arab returns. and Daru finally falls asleep. Daru. is relieved because he thinks the prisoner is escaping. He still hears the gendarme's farewell. but the Arab does not seem to understand. they stop and Daru surveys the landscape. In the middle of the night the Arab sneaks out of bed and leaves the room. They walk for an hour before resting at a sharp peak of limestone. After another hour of walking. Daru has trouble sleeping.Another function of their dialogue is to flesh-out the political backdrop of the story. The narrator's descriptions mingle with Daru's thoughts. Daru does not have any answers for the prisoner. As he stands there he thinks of how he insulted Balducci. still awake. . They are also connected to the Daru's sense of belonging within this remote region. and Daru asks him if he is afraid. As they prepare for bed. He hands the Arab a pack of food and two thousand francs. He tells him that he can survive for two days. This ambiguity keeps the reader from certain knowledge. and whether the gendarme will return. Daru sets up a bed for the Arab after they eat. c        Daru lies on his couch and listens to the silence. He thinks about how neither he nor his guest matter in this desert. They continue walking and Daru notes how nature comes alive. Daru is furious at the Arab.

sharing his room with . but pushes away his emotions. The Arab is an extremely complicated and ambiguous character.    In the moments immediately following Balducci's departure. the landscape represents Camus's idea of an indifferent universe: devoid of logic and silent to the needs of humankind. he cannot handle political and judicial ambiguity." Yet Daru has a logical reason for remaining here: it offers him a sense of belonging that no other place can give. and also to the pervading solitude. He explains that in a day's walk he will find pasture lands and the first nomads who will shelter him. like nature. The Arab however. leaving him alone in the classroom and hoping that the Arab has fled during the night. but finally decides to retrace his steps and return to the spot where he left the Arab. On the bl ackboard there is written. His unwillingness to be the prisoner's prosecutor is based on logic: he has no concrete proof of the man's guilt. You will pay for this. their cultural differences (and the fact that they are strangers) precludes understanding. yet he does not want to lead him to imprisonment. and it goes against his code of honor. Daru interrupts him. Daru finds meaning in his life through his decision to live in this cruel landscape. His inability to make a clear judgment on the Arab results from a lack of knowledge. neither he nor his guest." Daru feels desperately alone. By the end of the narrative he no longer feels attached to it. He feels something in his throat at the site of the solitary figure. Daru's fear of making a decision represents his inability to acknowledge the absurd. "You have handed over our brother. represents the beginning of a shift in the way Daru feels about the plateau region. He tries to learn about the Arab through conversation. He recalls his struggle to adjust to it. however. is an unfeeling. Camus believes that it is the freedom to choose and an individual's experience that give meaning to life. which eventually alienates him from the plateau region and leaves him in a moral no-man's land. However. as throughout the narrative. although there is no good choice. and tries to speak. When he looks again the Arab has disappeared. Daru has mixed emotions: he feels revolted by the prisoner's alleged crime. Though Daru proves able to face down the absurdity of the landscape. The Arab has a look of panic on his face. Daru listens to the silence surrounding him. Daru hesitates. He gives the Arab many chances. Camus feels that the act of making a choice and standing by that choice is the most important thing a human being can do. and in this way he has come to terms with the pervasive silence. however. Then he turns him to the south and shows him a path across the plateau. Daru listens to the silence as if it is an entity. He continues to look back at the motionless Arab. He offers neither Daru nor the reader any answers.Daru turns him east and points out the direction to Tinguit.that is. Meanwhile. mattered. A short while later he stands at the window of the schoolhouse window. His opinion of the region is an echo of Camus's philosophy of life: "No one in this desert. absurd abstraction. Daru continually strives to imbue his essentially meaningless choice with some clear logic. Daru hopes that his moral dilemma will simply go away -. and thus finds himself completely isolated. Here. and leaves before anything more can be said. he hopes that the prisoner will escape. When he reaches the little hill he sees the prisoner trudging east towards Tinguit. justice.

because he chose to live there. Daru cannot find a way of his complex situation. Yet the Arab's choice does not provide any answers for him or the reader. and his own failure to choose the Arab's fate. which is the direction the Arab would have taken for freedom. Camus suggests that the Arab's friends are circling the schoolhouse to see what Daru plans on doing with the prisoner. because the natural landscape has become associated with the moral dilemma of the Arab. just as Daru does not know the Arab's story. whoever they may be.the episode with the Arab has left him in a state of radical uncertainty. In failing to make a decision. Perhaps he believes that in allowing the Arab to choose he will find out the truth of his guilt. He views the Arab moving through the harsh landscape with new eyes. and also the direction south. Daru's alientation from the plateau region becomes all the more concrete. If so. it's ambiguous whether the Arab even understood Daru's explanation of the difference between going east and going south.     Daru faces a moral dilemma when he is ordered to turn in the Arab. On the morning of their journey. We assume that they will not be as wishy-washy as Daru was. Daru consistently fails to do so. the note may have been written by Daru's friends. and all the more dangerous. feeling it's desperate solitude.the Arab imposes upon Daru a feeling of fraternity for the Arab. he has allowed the Arab to impose a new meaning on the landscape. do not know the whole story of Daru's moral struggle. The feeling that a hidden society is waiting to pass judgement on Daru haunts the story. However. His window looks south. Daru's course of action leads him into moral . thus embracing its absurdity -. Thus the window reminds him both of the Arab's failure to choose freedom. and then leaves him to decide where to go. However. Perhaps Daru himself wrote it as an expression of his morally complex state of despair. He shows the Arab the direction east. Those judges. and with the Arab's choice to walk toward imprisonment. However. He no longer feels "at home" on the plateau. Though the people who wrote it have no access to Daru's moral struggle. morality is treated with ambiguity. nevertheless. The landscape symbolizes Daru's isolation. instead trying to pass his choice along to the prisoner. yet (unlike Daru) they will pass judgement anyway. there in no way to prove this hypothesis with certainty. One of the cheif ambiguities in this section is the evidence that creeps up now and then that Daru and the Arab are not alone. the sounds Daru hears may be those of animals. he must choose. He fails to choose. they replay the moral problem that faced Daru. but returns when his anxiety to know how the Arab has chosen gets the most of him. Indeed. where he once felt "at home" on the plateau -. Daru's return home emphasizes this newfound despair. Daru hears a rustling around the house during the night and again when he and the Arab set out in the morning. He is clearly unable to control the circumstances surrounding his choice. or simply the result of his paranoia. The end of á  embodies the overwhelming solitude that pervades the narrative. they are in a position to pass judgement upon him for it. with the writing on the blackboard. He leaves the Arab. Like all the themes in the narrative. Camus leaves it unclear who wrote the note.

though he constantly tries to glean information about why the Arab committed . he finds himself in a state of desperate moral ambiguity. Daru attempts to pass along his obligation to choose to the Arab. will now be judged by others who do not understand him. The narrative represents this philosophy. Thus his situation is one of extreme isolation from human understanding.he has betrayed his own principles in allowing the Arab to choose punishment. Daru makes himself comfortable within it. Indeed. Daru's ensuing moral despair should be understood in the light of Camus's philosophy. If someone else wrote it. when the Arab decides to turn himself in. Daru has accepted his living conditions and indeed feels at home within them. Throughout the story Daru faces physical isolation on his the remote plateau. and Camus believed that through independent action one finds value in life. Daru suffers for it. The way we make this home is through individual choice. we cannot decide not to choose -.trouble: he does not know whether the Arab deserves to be punished or let go. the freedom to choose is also paradoxically an obligation. Ô      Everyone in á  has limited knowledge of the happenings of the story. x  Freedom lies at the core of á . Daru should have made a decision. Daru's choice to live in the plateau region is a choice motivated out of what Camus would call an understanding of the "absurd. we all need to make a home for ourselves within an essentially uncaring universe. He looks at the harsh landscape. who failed to use judgement. however. and stuck with it. and sees only his failure to choose. he simply has his orders and follows them. it represents his despair and his alienation from himself -.we must choose in order to retain freedom. yet he fails to simply release the prisoner. Camus feels. Just so. and as a result he is left in complete moral solitude. At the end however. or why Daru must take the Arab to the police. If he wrote it himself. instead allowing the Arab to choose either freedom or trial. However.    There are two kinds of solitude in á . This physical solitude is not a negative state. Daru doesn't know whether the Arab should be released or punished. it should be stuck to. Balducci doesn't know why the Arab killed his cousin. Daru certainly believes that turning in the Arab was wrong. However. once his home. Daru. His failure to act with regard to the Arab's fate has left him disconnected from himself. Camus believed that once a decision was reached. and is inherently connnected with the human right to choose a course of action. and that the freedom to choose one's action gives meaning to human life. This moral solitude is most clearly symbolized by the mysterious writing on the blackboard. Freedom gives life meaning. Though the landscape itself is unfeeling and unforgiving. He fails to make a decision. He fails to choose at all. and the cruel plateau region embodies a type of home for him despite its desolate climate. one way or the other." Any human needs to belong to a place. Daru occupies a state of moral solitude. and he allows this uncertainty to overwhelm him. Instead. it represents a clear threat. When we decide not to choose we fall victim to the essential cruelty and ambiguity of the universe.

if we make choices anyway and  our choices. Meanwhile. We never learn whether the Arab deserves punishment or freedom. Despite this indifference. The reader. even though such aims are impossible. his failure to respond to the moral dilemma represented by the Arab ultimately crushes him. occupies a limited vantage point. too. the way that Daru does.if he even did. choosing and pursuing freedom." Camus feels that this is the only way we can exist. and thus falls into despair. In the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Daru fails to do so. thus putting us in a similar position to Daru -. uncaring world and human striving leads to a condition that Camus dubs "the absurd. human beings must survive. the Arab displays confusion when Daru asks him difficult questions and when Daru explains his choice to either escape to the south or turn himself into the police. even though the universe does not care whether we live or die. One must choose anyway.murder -.  Camus envisions the universe as silent and indifferent (his portrayal of the cruel plateau region fits this vision very neatly). Daru's ability to find comfort and within the harsh plateau climate bodes well for his ability to sustain life in absurd conditions. If we let this fact haunt us. we may avoid such despair." He writes." Although it might sound pretty depressing to live in an inescapable state of "the absurd.that is. . though rarely in the dramatic fashion Camus sets up in á . One must continue striving.it's always going to be limited. This combination of a godless. However. Daru becomes preoccupied with the limitations of his knowledge and thus fails to choose -- opening the door to despair. it always happens from a particular individual's point-of-view -. we all must do so every day. And indeed. Because human knowledge is always subjectively situated -. "The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. however. Camus denies us crucial knowledge. one must act with an absurd confidence. We never learn who wrote the message on the blackboard at the end of the story. we open ourselves up to moral despair.or to any individual who must make choices despite his or her limited perspective. They continue to build meaning and pursue certainty.

.