How Do you Do, Camus?

I choose to see an elephant!

I choose to see an elephant!

Like many writers, I spend a great deal of my time reading. And although a well-written novel with characters so vivid and content so rich ranks right up there with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a crab cake, it is the simplicity of the short story that really satisfies me.

If you were educated in the United States, then perhaps your teachers exposed you to a number of the benchmarks in the short story category, stories such as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, or   Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.

The best short story I have ever read is The Guest (or in French, The Host) by Albert Camus.

Literary critics writing about this story in the last twenty-five years have sliced and diced The Guest into a cold slaw. Their opinions are diverse; their textual support is impressive in both French and English, but my God, leave the poor story alone! Find another topic for your Master’s thesis…

Have you seen women who have had so much plastic surgery that you cannot recognize their original faces?

For those of you who haven’t read The Guest, here is a brief objective summary:

Daru, a French colonial teacher, working with Arab children and living alone in the Algerian mountains, is put upon by the French government to make a choice concerning the life of another man, called by Camus the Arab, who has murdered one of his own people out in his village.  In an existential response, Daru ignores the government by giving the Arab a choice to follow one of two literal paths: the path to jail, and thus death, or the path to freedom. In a curious move, the Arab, a prisoner,  takes the path to jail. And in an ironic ending, the Arab’s kinsmen murder Daru.

This story’s central idea is about choice. That’s it.

Camus explores Daru’s choices, the Arab’s choices, the Gendarme’s choices and ultimately, asks us, the reader,  to consider our own choices.

Now back to my Sauvignon Blanc.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in On fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to How Do you Do, Camus?

  1. “………Camus explores Daru’s choices, the Arab’s choices, the Gendarme’s choices and ultimately, asks us, the reader, to consider our own choices……”.

    Not only should this particular short story be approached this way, but all literature too (well, I think so). Textual criticism drains the life out stories and novels, and – dare I say – turns not a few young minds off reading stories and novels

    Have you heard of “bibliotherapy”? whereby a therapist, wanting to get to the root of what really ails an especially repressed patient, gives him (her) a novel to read, which he (the therapist) thinks will speak to the patient.

    Thus the patient’s emotional responses to the book’s characters, will give important clues to what ails him.

    Reading as therapy. I like that, and think we should all approach stories and novels this way, and to hell with the expositors of desiccating lit-crit.

  2. Cheri says:

    I have heard of the therapy you mention and would be interested in knowing how the therapist decides on which book for which patient.

  3. I only heard of bibliotherapy through a book I read some 15 years ago, by a practicing psychologist, whose name escapes me.

    He was a lifelong reader of literature, and simply knew from the hundred, perhaps thousands, of novels he’d read, what novels to give to patients.

  4. andreaskluth says:

    First of all, that’s a great elephant. (New Mexico, perhaps?) I love deserts.

    Speaking of deserts, I love Camus, even though it’s been years and years. (He hung around Hannibal’s home town, btw)

    He benefits from being compared to Sartre, who was a terrible writer. Pompous, French, good at puffing Gitanes at Les Deux Magots, but hopeless at putting his philosophy into a story. Nausea was as boring as it promised to be nauseating. Or so I remember. (Hmm. Rand couldn’t translate philosophy into story-telling either. A cautionary tale).

    But from Camus, I remember L’Etranger and La Peste vividly. And: A short but fantastic essay on The Myth of Sisyphus.

    Since you recommend the Guest, that’s going to go right on top of my pile now….

  5. andreaskluth says:

    ‘….If you were educated in the United States, then perhaps your teachers exposed you to a number of the benchmarks in the short story category, stories such as…”

    Which reminds me (that, and the picture): My teachers exposed me to Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant as the quintessential short story. Unfortunately I forgot what was in it, so I have to read that one again too….

  6. Cheri says:

    Thank you, Andreas.

    Carefree, Arizona the elephant resides. Move your arrow cursor onto the picture and the caption will pop up for you.

    I have not read The Myth of Sisyphus but will add to my pile.

    My mentor, Joe, sent me the article in the New Yorker (April 13, 2009) about Orwell. Fits right in with your recent post today. Not sure how to hyperlink this on WP yet. 🙂

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/13/090413fa_fact_wood

    Discusses freedom and class. Orwell seems like a stinker.

    More later.

  7. andreaskluth says:

    Ah, yes, I meant Arizona. I was thinking that this might be near your St Johns College there.

    From the summary of the Orwell article: “The real struggle for this puritan masochist was the struggle to obliterate privilege…..”

    “So the question hangs over Orwell: Did he want to level up society or level it down? The evidence points to the latter….”

    My, Hizzoner and I better sit down for this one.

  8. I loved The Lottery. Very powerful.

    How about The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas [1974] by Ursula Le Guin. I loved that story. It has remained with me for many days as I was so disturbed by its graphic details. Omelas for Salem, O I believe.
    Hope you are well.

  9. Cheri says:

    St. John’s is in the high New Mexican plateau, a touch of heaven for those of us who love the desert.

    I realize I sent you the online abbreviated version of the Orwell article by Mr. Wood. I include this quotation as it relates to your recent comment:

    About the English after WWII, ” This combination of conservatism and radicalism, of political sleepiness and insomnia, this centuries-long brotherhood of gamekeeper and poacher, which Orwell called the English genius, was Orwell’s genius, finding in English life its own ideological brotherhood.”

    Like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Orwell seems to have been both repulsed by and attracted to privilege.

  10. Cheri says:

    Welcome to my new digs, Sci-Fi Fanatic.:)

    Thanks for the recommendation. Because of Andreas Kluth, my pile of to reads has grown tall, but I will take your short story recommendation, as well.

    What about the story grabbed you?

  11. chourou says:

    Hi Cheri. This is my first comment since your blog switched. New one looks like very nice!

    Among the short stories you mentioned, I think I’ve read “The Lottery” in my college days,if my memory serves me right. It is a very very horrifying one, isn’t
    it?

    As I read your summary , “The Guest” is looks pretty impressive.

    When I was in University, I took writing course, and plus, majored Ryunosuke Akutagawa, one of the most famous novel writer in Japan: famous especially for his wonderful and magical short stories. Many of them are transrated in English. I bet you would love them once you read.

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks for following me over to WordPress, Chourou. Which Akutagawa story would you suggest that I read? Yes, your memory is working well. The Lottery is a spooky story, but one that evokes reaction from most who read it. When I taught that story, it enabled me to tell other scary stories.

  12. Well, it’s been a long time, but I recall thinking just how horrible it was the way this community treated this one child to maintain happiness.

    I also think it speaks volumes about the secrets we keep.

    There is much left to the imagination as well.

  13. By the way, I would be remiss to not mention that your site looks lovely.

  14. Cheri says:

    Excellent idea for a blog post, a short story, a book!
    The secrets we keep. I am reminded of the fellow whose name I don’t remember who was Deep Throat in the Watergate debacle.

    Didn’t tell anyone for years and years. Impressive self-restraint.

    We all have secrets. The word secret..positive or negative?

  15. Right. Well, that would depend on the secret. : )

  16. Pingback: Almost a Sleepover « Notes from Around the Block

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