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Importance of Snow in “The Guest” by Camus

At least once in their life – and, in all likelihood, far more frequently – everyone has the reason to think that the universe is unfair. While despicable and immoral actions may yield rewards and recognition, doing the right thing not only does not guarantee those but may even bring troubles to the Good Samaritan. Camus’ short story “The Guest” explores this topic and reflects on the bitter irony of being punished for doing the right thing. The schoolteacher, Daru, is tasked to escort a prisoner and sets him free instead – only to be threatened by the Algerian rebels who erroneously believe he betrayed their comrade. The story is set amidst an uncharacteristically severe snowfall, and snow serves two purposes simultaneously: it sets the events in motion and emphasizes Daru’s loneliness in his absurd yet dangerous predicament.

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The first role that snow plays in “The Guest” is purely functional, as the events must unfold. The story begins with two men – an old gendarme and his Arab prisoner – plowing through snow, while the schoolteacher Daru watches them. The travelers make “slow progress in the snow,” thus alluding to the visible tracks they must leave behind (Camus 1). After reaching Daru, the gendarme orders him to escort the prisoner to Tinguit and leaves.

Indignant of the idea, Daru treats the Algerian as a guest by setting his hands free and preparing a bed for him. In the morning, the teacher gives the Arab a thousand franks and tells him he could either go to Tinguit and turn himself in or go south and join the rebellious nomads. Of his own accord, the Algerian chooses Tinguit but, upon returning to the schoolhouse, Daru finds a threatening note: “You handed over our brother. You will pay for this” (Camus 8). The tracks in the snow lead the Algerian rebels to believe that Daru escorted the prisoner to jail, and his compassion only earns him a death threat.

Apart from this purely functional importance, snow also serves to emphasize Daru’s loneliness in the story. Were it not for the snowfall, there would-be students in the school, but they “had stopped coming” due to weather conditions (Camus 1). If there were students in the school, it is possible that the gendarme would not risk leaving the prisoner with the teacher. Admittedly, whether Daru would decide to set the Arab free when having twenty pupils around is another question entirely.

Yet, regardless of the turn, the events would take, the presence of witnesses would make the erroneous interpretation of the event – and, thus, the bitter irony of Daru’s predicament – less likely. Nonetheless, snow isolates the teacher from everyone, and this isolation makes him vulnerable. It is no coincidence that the story’s last sentence is “In this vast landscape he had loved so much, he was alone” (Camus 8). The protagonist’s loneliness is what leaves him at the mercy of circumstances, and snow is both the reason behind it and the way to emphasize it for the author.

As one can see, snow serves a twofold purpose in “The Guest” by Camus. First of all, it is essential for the events of the plot, as the tracks in the snow create the absurd, ironic, yet dangerous situation where Datu receives threats for the opposite of what he did. Apart from that, snow also serves to stress the protagonist’s existential loneliness that renders him vulnerable to the circumstances.

Work Cited

Camus, Albert. “The Guest.San Hose State University. Web.

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