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.

To Cry or Not to Cry

To me, crying is one of the most natural, genuine ways humans display their emotions. Tears do not seem to be a controllable response to something, or a type of reaction that can be repressed. In my personal experience though, tears can feel random. For instance, I have not cried at some of the most sad moments in my life, but I cry every single year at Superbowl commercials. While I believe tears are a good indicator someone is feeling emotions, I think crying says little about what a person is truly experiencing.

The people of the court in The Stranger do not agree. Throughout the court case of Meursault, his lack of tears over his mother’s death is brought up numerous times. So much so that it becomes one of the strongest pieces of evidence supporting that Muersault is a man with “crime in his heart.” (pg.96). The prosecutor is so intrigued by this idea that a man could not cry over his dead mother, that he questions both Perez and the caretaker from the old home on Meursault’s emotional reaction at the funeral. The prosecutor asks Perez if, “he had at least seen me [Muersault] cry.” (pg.91). In the trial of Meursault, his emotionless or at least tear less reaction to his mother’s death becomes a tick against him in the “morality” box. To this courtroom, tears are the primary way humans show sadness or grief. To them, anyone who does not experience grief they way they are expecting must be inherently evil. I believe this is a close minded view of people and their individual experiences, but I also cry at commercials, so who am I to say.

Is Marie a Foil or Just Woman?

I found the character Marie to be very interesting throughout the first part of The Stranger. She is a woman who comes into Meursault’s life at first through a purely physical connection, but they seem to spend more and more time together.

So far, I have been unable to figure out the purpose of her character. At times I have thought she was a possible foil for Meursault. Marie seems to exude emotion and joy at all times. She is consistently described as “laughing” after almost anything Meursault says. Furthermore, she seems to be the ultra emotional to his emotionless, even asking Meursault if he wants to “marry her” or if he “loved her” after only a few days together. This all could support the argument that Marie’s character is there to remind us just how apathetic Meursault is through her exuberance and overflowing feelings.

That being said, The Stranger was also written in the 1940’s, a time when most women were considered overly emotional and irrational. I think it is especially important to note that this book was written by a man and through the perspective of a man, so as an audience we are seeing Marie through a “double” male gaze. Thus, when reading I found myself wondering if the character of Marie was trying to comment on Meursault’s personality, or if she was just a representation of what men thought women were at the time.