When Daru, a French schoolteacher, is forced to take in an Arab accused of murder, his mind suffers from paranoiac delusions. Daru’s doubts about the mental soundness of the Arab leave him feeling abnormally isolated and persecuted by unknown enemies. In “The Teacher” by Arnold Shiller, paranoia forms a self-imposed isolation and creates mental instability. Living in an isolated region of a French colony, possibly Algeria, Daru does not feel alone. As a schoolteacher, his current state of solitude is created by a snowstorm, a force of nature he cannot control. Daru is aware of the people suffering from the snowstorm, such as his students, and constantly mulls over their situation to entertain himself.
Though Daru lives in a remote schoolhouse, this harsh region is home to him because “Everywhere else, he felt exiled” (54).
Though physically removed from people, Daru is mentally close and awaiting their return after the snowstorm ends. He cannot be isolated because humanity still envelops his home. Daru’s paranoia emerges when his friend Balducci brings an Arab accused of murder to his schoolhouse. Daru immediately notices the unpleasant aspects of the Arab, such as his huge lips, feverish eyes, and rebellious look, but he still unties the hands of the Arab with some compassion. When Balducci announces that Daru must deliver the Arab to Tinguit, Daru is surprised and reluctant to do so because it violates his principles.
But Balducci’s paranoia begins to infect Daru, and when Daru asks “‘Is he against us?’ “, Balducci replies with “‘I don’t think so. But you can never be sure'” (56).
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Daru suddenly feels wrathful towards the Arab and all men for their spite, hates, and lusts, isolating himself from others through this new hatred. Thus, Daru silently accepts the pistol that Balducci hands over to him, realizing that it could be of use in the future, possibly for murder.
Daru’s flash of wrath passes quickly, though, and he stands fast on his resolution not to hand over the Arab, preferring to insult Balducci rather than violate his beliefs. Once Balducci leaves, Daru feels isolated, though the Arab sits on the floor, because he is afraid of the Arab who, “without stirring, never took his eyes off him” (58).
This paranoiac isolation makes Daru stick the revolver in his pocket as a confirmation of his fear, similar to Oedipal Maas’ useless search for human companionship as a confirmation of her isolation. Through anger at and fear of the human race, Daru creates a bubble of solitude, removing himself from even a human that sits next to him.
In the middle of the story, Daru begins to doubt the humanity of the Arab, and wishes that he would leave and eliminate the problem of bringing him to Tinguit and violating his beliefs or disobeying the government and bringing punishment upon himself. Daru is “amazed at the unmixed joy he derived from the mere though that the Arab might have fled and that he would be alone with no decision to make” (58).
He fears both the Arab and the government, but will not violate his beliefs, catching him in a “Catch-22,” unable to find a solution, which feeds his growing paranoia. In Daru’s mind, the Arab begins to take on animal characteristics, such as his “dark yet shiny eyes and animal mouth” (59), showing that Daru is bending reality to fit his mind’s perceptions, a start of mental instability.
Daru’s sudden bursts of hostility towards the Arab are surprising to him, as he has shown courtesy towards the Arab, but they are a reflection of his paranoia and growing mental imbalance. In the night, Daru is unable to sleep as he listens to the Arab breathe. He is bothered by the sense of fraternity with the Arab, but shakes off the feeling quickly, for his fear of the Arab is greater than any other emotion. As the night progresses, Daru hears the Arab get up, and his thoughts immediately go to his pistol in the desk drawer, then to the possibility of the Arab running away, revealing his paranoia through a meaningless fear and his hope for a resolution of his internal conflict, for the Arab only goes to use the outhouse. Later, Daru .”.. he seemed, from the depths of his sleep, to hear furtive steps around the schoolhouse.
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‘I’m dreaming! I’m dreaming!” he repeated to himself” (61).
Fed by paranoia, Daru’s mind becomes delusional, hearing malicious steps around the schoolhouse while sleeping. From his unwillingness to accept the Arab as human, and his fear of both the Arab and the government, Daru’s mind is wearing down, enhancing his paranoia. The next morning, Daru feels the effect of his self-imposed isolation. He thinks of Balducci, and .”.. without knowing why, he felt strangely empty and vulnerable” (62)..