Love and Migration

In Exit West, we meet two protagonists who are almost foils of each other. Saeed was raised on faith and is attached to his family – he learned how to pray from a young age and lived at home as long as he could. Nadia moved out of her family’s home at the first chance she got – which, as an unmarried woman in this country, is extremely risky. She wears a full-length robe not to practice her religion, but “so men don’t f–ck with me” (17).

“The following evening helicopters filled the sky … Saeed watched them with his parents from their balcony. Nadia watched them from her rooftop, alone.”

Page 35

Why Saeed would think he is compatible with a partner like Nadia is, at first, confusing. However, as their country gets more war-torn, it is clear that every civilian needs to seek refuge in another country. Coming from a man with such an honest background, in a country on the brink of civil war, Saeed’s first impressions of Nadia are simply: wow.

“He watched as she walked out to the student parking area and there, instead of covering her head with a black cloth, she donned a black motorcycle helmet … and rode off, disappearing with a controlled rumble into the gathering dusk.”

Page 5

Saeed is bewildered by Nadia’s confidence during times of extreme turmoil. And throughout Exit West, their journey across the globe escaping this turmoil brings them closer together as they depend on each other to find their footing in new situations — Saeed without his parents, and Nadia as an independent woman in a new country.

Meursault and Gatsby: Dueling Existentialists

I wasn’t in class during the discussion on existentialism. However, just by being there in the following days, finishing The Stranger, and skimming the overviews on existentialism, I have been able to capture a vague idea of what it means to be an existentialist: seeing absurdity in your own existence and in the life you have worked so hard to create, realizing everyone’s ultimate fate is death, and living the rest of your life not according to societal expectations of people like you. You exit existence defiantly.

I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I only had to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

– Meursault, page 123

In The Stranger, we are never truly sure what causes Meursault to live his life the way he does. Maybe it’s when his mother moves into a home that he starts to see absurdity in trying so hard to succeed – his mother moves into a home because he can no longer financially support her, after all. All we truly know is that Meursault lives his life without a care, trying to find pleasure in being detached. As a result, he is easily manipulated, resulting in his downfall and existentialist realization that all humans have the same fate: death.

Another way I have grasped a small understanding of the concept of existentialism is by reading these blog posts. I have seen connections to Stephen King and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — which makes me recall reading Gatsby in AP Lang last year.

In the end, Gatsby lives an existential life, albeit different from Meursault’s: he inherits wealth, becomes a huge Mafia man, reunites with his first love, Daisy, and pretty much throws everything away in order to try and win her back. The focal point of all this is him buying a huge, ornate mansion right across from Daisy and her husband. Although Gatsby is a big man with lots of money and resources, it seems that Daisy is the only reason he exists. He wastes all of his money throwing huge parties in his mansion in order to attract Daisy, detached from the reality that they will not end up running off and starting a new life together – in fact, after Myrtle Wilson is killed, Daisy and Tom run off and Gatsby is shot by Mr. Wilson.

In The Stranger, we see existentialist parallels to Gatsby — Meursault finds pleasure in being detached and his only purpose is to follow the mundane orders of his peers — attend his mother’s funeral, agree to the idea of marrying his girlfriend (“Well, we could if she wanted to”), and ultimately, kill the two native Algerians, leading to his execution. It seems that all of Meursault’s angers with society come out when he is talking with the Chaplain the day before his execution:

What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers?

– Meursault, page 121

And while both learn to accept their fate, unlike Gatsby, Meursault dies with an overwhelming sense of pride in getting out what he truly thinks.

Who is Mersault Anyway?

“The Stranger” begins with a long, drawn-out summary of Mersault’s mother’s (Maman’s) death and the days that followed it. It’s not an anecdote, it doesn’t have any emotional detail. Mersault sees the death of his mother as more of an inconvenience than anything – he seems apologetic when he tells his boss that he needs time off work, telling him “‘It’s not my fault'” (1). During the procession, he seems more focused on simple grievances like the heat and how long the walk is than anything else. He returns from his trip, checks another thing off his to-do list, and returns to his normal life as if nothing significant has just happened. He acts like an outlier, simply an observer of the raw emotion around him even though the death holds the most significance in himself.

Even throughout the first part, Mersault has no characteristic of his own; when he is alone, he just sits by his window and observes. He is truly the embodiment of who we would consider a “stranger:” someone who exists and has his own life outside of his little interaction with us that we can’t imagine or understand, because we simply don’t know him.

The detail that stuck out to me most was how after his late mother moved into a home, he packed his entire apartment into one room. “It was just the right size when Maman was here,” he says. “Now it’s too big for me … I live in just one room now, with some saggy straw chairs, a wardrobe whose mirror has gone yellow, a dressing table, and a brass bed. I’ve let the rest go” (21). Another object that Mersault has kept in his tiny room, however, is a “notebook where I put things from the papers that interest me.”

Mersault describes putting an advertisement for a salt company into his notebook. And every other worn out object in his little room has one everyday use that helps him in his survival.

We don’t know anything about Mersault’s life. The salt advertisement that he puts into his notebook gives us absolutely no clue as to what his interests actually are. He has no forms of recreation or entertainment in his apartment – it’s all just basic necessities. Why is he showing no emotion or sense of reflection at his mother’s funeral?

In short, the first part of this novel gives us no insight into Mersault’s past. The reader cannot connect with him on a personal level, or make inferences as to why he lives the way he does. Evidently he had a strained relationship with his mother, but I want to know why. All I can say is that so far, the title has fit the character.