The Supernatural in Beloved and Exit West

When first reading Exit West, I assumed it was a futuristic form of historical fiction, a realistic story about two people during a time of war.  But when they first walked through the door, I thought had misunderstood or the story skipped forward in time. I thought it to be a mistake by Hamid to introduce such a syfy like portal in this very probable world, that he was confusing the reader more than he should.

In Beloved, I was even more sure that I was reading historical fiction.  A book about life after slavery? For sure. But then Paul D scared a ghost out of the house, Sethe was choked my mysterious fingers, and Beloved appeared and disappeared.

Although initially strange, I think that these supernatural aspects were necessary.  In Exit West, the magical doors transcend all barriers and create an accelerated migration, that gives Hamid an opportunity provide commentary about these topics.  In Beloved, the ghost forces Sethe to relive trauma that slavery has brought upon her, and gives Morrison a chance to give the reader a deeper understanding about living after slavery.  In both books, they are very central elements, and introduce ways to bring out ideas that wouldn’t have been articulated in a nonfiction book.

Can these books, especially Beloved, still be considered historical fiction?

Divisions in Exit West

In Hamid’s society, borders set by governments or created by oceans or mountains can be overlooked. Because of the doors, the process of migration is sped up, and countries cannot build walls or physically keep migrants out. Hamid highlights the prevalence of xenophobia and shows humans’ tendencies to divide through his accelerated migration.

When Nadia and Saeed are in London, England, the natives and the migrants are very clearly divided. England attempts to enforce their laws upon the migrants and violently threatens them. The natives believe that the migrants will diminish something about their country. They feel threatened by all the people pouring into their city, and reject the newcomers.

Divisions are created not only between natives and migrants, but within the migrant community as well. In London, the migrants divide themselves up by national affiliations. Saeed and Nadia end up living around the Nigerians, and Saeed feels uncomfortable because of the unfamiliarity of all these people have something in common that he does not. He eventually finds people from his own country and gravitates towards them, finding comfort in their similarity to him, even though they are more stranger to him than the Nigerians are now.

Whether it is the non migrants reacting to the migrants or the migrants reacting to each other, the fear of being isolated and singled out creates divisions in society.

Marie in Meursault’s Mind

Much of the meaning taken away from The Stranger is dependent on the character Meursault’s existentialist mindset, yet this mindset is broken down in many different scenarios as the book goes on. One aspect of Meursault that I struggled to grasp was his relationship with his girlfriend, Marie.

When reading quickly, it seems that Marie is a perfect example of Meursault’s existentialism, in that he seems very detached from her while they are together. When Marie asks if she loves him or if she wants to marry him, he says things like “it doesn’t make any difference” or “it doesn’t really matter” (page 41.) Similarly, when he is fantasizing about women in jail, he does not focus specifically on Marie but instead on “all the women he had known” (page 77.)

However, there are many times when he seems to break off from these thoughts. When she visits him in jail, he mentions how he “thought she looked very beautiful, but didn’t know how to tell her.” This is one of the few times Meursault doesn’t say what he is thinking in a blatant or logical way. Additionally, when he hears Marie laugh, he reacts differently and once even said after hearing that sound, “for the first time maybe, I really thought I was going to get married.” He doesn’t call it love, but it is a big change in his normal thoughts and tendencies.

I am not sure if these glimpses of emotion outweigh his existentialist-mindset, but there is definitely some part of Meursault that has not been consumed by existentialism.

Villagers in “The Very Old Man”

While reading “The Old Man with Enormous Wings,” I was struck by the way the villagers responded to the angel’s arrival and eventual lack of miracles.

First, when they saw the angel they poked and there food at him, and the author mentioned how the villagers who gave him food were the most “charitable souls.”  I thought that even this supposed act of generosity was very deprecating, and when reading this I pictured the angel more and more like a circus animal that is cruelty treated, the very opposite of a creature that is connected to a god that the villagers look up to.

The villagers also had very little loyalty to the angel, especially when the spider woman appeared to have more knowledge or lessons to teach them than the angel did.  In a way, the angel and the spider woman represent two different religions. The villagers had no allegiance to the angel as soon as they realized that he could not give them solutions to all their ailments and problems.  They were only focused on what the angel could do for their own personal gain.

After evaluating their actions, I question if religion is only to make you feel better about yourself.  Is it just a means of getting what you want? I think poorly of the villagers and consider them to be very materialistic, considering that they seem to be unable to have faith in something that cannot give them direct results. Their lack of allegiance revealed them to be very shallow, shedding light on how the author views human nature.