Nameless but Still Human

Upon finishing Exit West, and realizing Nadia and Saeed were the only characters given names in the story, I was immediately reminded of The Stranger by Albert Camus. While both stories make the conscious decision to leave some characters unnamed, I believe the reasons for doing so could not be more different.

As I read it, The Stranger left all Arab characters unnamed as a dismissal of their complexity, they were Arab and that was all the reader needed to know. It very effectively dehumanized them, subjecting them to a singular trait amongst characters as complex as Muersault.

I felt that Hamid decided to leave all characters besides Nadia and Saeed unnamed to humanize the two, by allowing them to function as singular people rather than a mouthpiece for all migrants everywhere. As soon as the first page Hamid is deliberate in naming his main characters. “His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia” (3). By naming them, and giving them fully developed, individual personalities Hamid is creating human characters that happen to migrate, not migrants that happen to be people.

What I found even more interesting about the lack of names in Exit West was that for me at least, it helped to humanize and connect all of the unnamed characters. By describing the person who helped Nadia and Saeed pass from Mykonos to London as, “a partly shaved-haired local girl” (117), and the person in Vienna fighting for protection of the migrants as simply, “a young woman” (109), the supporting characters are able to speak to a universal human experience. While every character in the book is fully developed and complex, by naming so few of them, it reminds readers that anyone could be put in the position of the migrant. It helps to break down the NATIVE/migrant binary, by not describing characters as specific people but rather in more general, easy to relate to terms. It prevents readers, from removing themselves from the Migrant experience because they are not named Cathy or Dave of whatever the name may be. Instead, it forces us (the reader) to reflect on the idea that many of us are young women or young people, and thus are no different from any character in the book.

I loved how the naming of Nadia and Saeed made them individual, human characters, and I also felt that not naming everyone else reminded me that we are all humans, capable of having the same experiences.

4 thoughts on “Nameless but Still Human

  1. CUORA S

    I completely agree with your analysis of the use of character names in Exit West. I especially liked how Hamid, while telling Saeed and Nadia’s story, wrote about other characters in his novel. For example, the story at the end about the maid who could not imagine leaving her home outside Marrakesh. He writes, “The maid placed her hand on her daughter’s hand and brought it to her lips… One day she might go, she thought. But not today” (226). His inclusion of detail when explaining other characters going through similar but not exact situations Saeed and Nadia went through shows, as you said, “we are all humans, capable of having the same experiences”.

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  2. HARRISON DEAR

    I really like this article. I think noticing the fact that only those have names shows you paid close detail, and I also like the phrase you put about “one who happens to migrate, not a migrant”, because I also believe it is crucial to not other folks. I think the author did a quality job of humanizing them. He told us about the plants they keep, what their houses look like, the desires they have, whether for intimacy or for their futures, etcetera.

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  3. SAMANTHA S

    I hadn’t considered before that Hamid never named any other characters besides Saeed and Nadia. I think your interpretation is really interesting couldn’t agree more. I think the lack of names makes passing characters possibly less memorable, but as you said, they seem to blend into an overall sense of humanity.

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  4. Katarina O.

    I agree with your analysis that by only giving Saeed and Nadia names that it is focusing on them by sharing their story that is reflective of many other migrant experiences. This allows the readers to really connect to and understand these two characters. It also makes the readers more sympathetic towards migrants as they are able to see the humanity in Saeed and Nadia and not just see them as refugees.

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