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As movements by disparate cultures around the world to understand and find meaning in the universe, the art of the Modernism and Postmodernism eras reflected this quest as
well. Modernism, and later Postmodernism, was initiated by a break from traditional thinking spawned by revolutionary breakthroughs in the sciences and political and cultural thinking. Ultimately, this wave of philosophical shift in worldviews, initially manifested in existentialism and later even more radical worldviews, would challenge the way peoples viewed the universe and what role humans play in the universe. This in philosophy was well displayed in Albert Camus' "The Guest" as the story delves into the moral dilemmas of Human Law versus one man's own perception of right and wrong. The story defies traditional philosophy and ultimately drives the main character, Daru, further into isolation from a world in which he feels little connection.
As changes to traditional thinking dominated the cultures of the early twentieth century, the people of the time struggled to find meaning in their lives. To some, God was no longer the center of the universe and man's endeavor shifted from striving for living for God and the promise of an afterlife in Heaven, to that of striving to find fulfillment in the Earthly realm. This is certainly the case with Daru. His insistences on ignoring the standards of conduct in his small part of the world are evidenced in several instances throughout the story; all of which are based on Daru's own sense of right and wrong rather than that of society.
Daru is an isolationist. His isolation is the source of what he holds most important in his life- his free will. The reader has to assume that Daru's free will is not a gift from God, but rather a product of his isolationism. Daru exhibits his freedom by, first, showing compassion and hospitality to his fellow man. It is obvious by Balducci's treatment of the prisoner that it is acceptable and normal to treat such a prisoner as less than human. This flies in the face of what Daru believes. As a result, he offers not only food and shelter to the prisoner early in the story, but later freedom. Daru's behavior even surprises the prisoner, as someone in his situation would never suspect such treatment.
Secondly, Daru will not be governed by anyone or any rules. He touts his freedoms by defying Balducci's requests, repeatedly when asked to deliver the prisoner. Even though he knows he has hurt the man; someone he has known for a long time. This seems to me to be an act of defiance for defiance's sake. Certainly, Daru is put off by the prisoner's crime, and more importantly, the fact that he did not have the good sense to be able to get away with it. However, when faced with the notion of having to capitulate to the laws of the land as given to him by Balducci, Daru would rather defy the order than to submit to it.
Lastly, his action to free the prisoner further illustrates Daru's willingness to never surrender his freedom of action, even in the face of reprisal from governments and his friends.
As stated before, Daru's freedom is a result of his isolation and his actions celebrate that freedom. However, his actions also serve the purpose of deepening his isolation. Not only does his deeds in reference to his hospitality of the prisoner, his defiance of Balducci's orders, and offering to set the prisoner free display an existentialist moral philosophy, but it also acts to deepen Daru's withdrawal from the rest of the world. This is how the author demonstrates the extent to which Daru relishes his freedom. Daru's peace of mind, his moral fiber, his very existence depends on his ability to keep the worldly trappings of rules, laws, regulations, and societal norms as far away from him as possible. As a result, he pushes everything and everyone as far away from him as he can in order to maintain his freedom.
Even his final act of offering freedom to the prisoner isolates him from not only Balducci and what he represents, but also those who support the prisoner.
Ironically, the gift of freedom offered to the prisoner is refused. Daru feels so strongly about the worth of his free will, that he was willing to offer it to hardly more than a stranger. Oddly enough, the prisoner chose to go to prison rather than pursue his own freedom. Perhaps that is because he has yet to abandon the conventional wisdom of the time and place of the story that dictates that one must obey the laws of the land and succumb to whatever policy is set forth by man. Daru, has long since relieved himself of that burden and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep it that way.
In conclusion, as humans struggled with notions such as religion, science, and the broad question of what is reality, so too were these questions reflected in the art and writings of the period. Modernism was an attempt to find order in the universe, while postmodernism reflected a feeling that there is no order to be found. The authors of this period took novel approaches in producing their stories in a way that challenged their readers and that promulgated the new ways of thinking that was being adopted by the different cultures of the world.
The art of the era certainly reflected this cultural change. Avant-garde movements such as expressionism, cubism, surrealism, etc were radically new ways that artists found to express themselves. Writers also found new ways of expression with the aspiration of shocking and criticizing the bourgeoisie as well as provoking new thought in its audience. This was evidenced by the sexually explicit writings of James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence. However, the most important contribution to this era were the writers who challenged their own morality, their place in society, the role of science, and the essence of human existence; such as found in the writings of Camus, Kafka, and H.P. Lovecraft, because of their willingness to question traditional thinking and offer the reader a deeper examination of their characters' moral dilemmas. Alfred Camus' "The Guest" took the reader into the mind of a man who struggles to find the answers to life's greatest questions through his own interpretation of freedom and free will. His freedom was not only a product of his isolation, but also drove him further into isolation.