The Duality of Woman

I suppose what fascinated me most about Exit West is its representation of the coexistence of femininity and sexuality. Especially in the parallel between Saeed’s mother and Nadia, we see this passionate drive for intimate physical connection. That drive is much more than we ever see in the parallel between Saeed and his father.

Because a large majority of literature or film depicts the male in a romantic relationship (granted that the relationship exists between a man and a woman) as the dominant sexual force, the one initiating contact, there is a very limited representation of female sexuality.

The lack of sexual expression granted to female characters prevents young adults and women from understanding who they are, what they need, and the validity of their experience as fully sentient beings. This poses a problem for a number of reasons, most obviously that these women are terminally unable to maintain an understanding of the existence of their sexuality. That’s why this book is so marvelous. There is an air of humanity and power held by the female characters in this story, the power of self-acceptance, and divine femininity, which is not seen in underdeveloped female characters. And this was accomplished without oversexualizing any of them; they became humans and lost no dignity in the process.

Meursault’s Moments of Sanity

A few chapters into the book, a thought, or rather a question, occurred to me. What if Meursault is a relatively normal character who is just written more truthfully than others? To put it more clearly, maybe Meursault is the only sane character in the story. As this isn’t the kind of topic with a definitive answer, I find it difficult to argue my point. Nevertheless, I will try.

Meursault seems, at least to me, to have a strong grip on or acceptance of reality. He tends not to complain about the cards he is dealt, as he realizes quite early on that he cannot do anything about them. For example, Meursault accepts his prison punishment relatively fast. One of his prison guards even points this out to him, saying, “[Y]ou see, you understand these things. The rest of them don’t” (78). We see this again in Meursault’s response to his problem of “killing time” (78). He mentions that, “apart from these annoyances,” by which he means his punishments, “I wasn’t too unhappy” (78). He cured his boredom by traveling back to his apartment by way of his memories, remembering, “every piece of furniture; and of every object, all the details; and of the details themselves–a flake, a crack, or a chipped edge” (79). This recollection process keeps him quite occupied and brings him to realize that, “a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison” (79).

To me, what others see as Meursault’s disconnection from reality, is just his acknowledgment that life must be taken as it comes, and that one must make the most of their given situation.

Does Real Love Involve Hatred?

Displays of love in The Stranger are not the kind I typically see in literature, and it makes me wonder what actually constitutes as love. It could possibly be argued that Meursault loved his mother or loves Marie, but it seems to me that he seems to have very little feeling for them, regardless of positive or negative. I

t’s generally assumed that one has love for their mother and that, upon her death, one would be distraught. Meursault does not show any sign of missing his mother, other than a passing mention of his apartment feeling too big since she’d gone (21). Similarly, Meursault shows very little sign of affection in his internal dialogue about Marie. He does mention wanting her (34) and that he “had a thing for her” at one point (19). His response to her asking to marry him (41) is more of an indifference than an agreement or confirmation.

The only relationship in which I see some semblance of love is between Salamano and his dog. They, undeniably, have a mutual disdain for each other, but that disdain means they carry strong feelings. And in contrast to their violent outbursts of supposed hatred (27), they also have moments of tenderness that, though they may not correlate directly with stereotypical tenderness, make it quite plain that they care for each other. Just the fact that Salamano, an elderly man, elects to take his dog for a long walk twice a day (27) shows some care. Additionally, Meursault describes Salamano and his dog as “inseparable for eight years” (26). The instance I feel shows Salamano’s love for his dog most clearly is his response to his dog going missing. He says, “but they’ll take him away from me, don’t you see” (39). Once this conversation had finished, Meursault and Salamano both returned to their rooms, and marked that, “from the peculiar little noise coming through the partition, I realized he was crying” (39).

As aforementioned, there is certainly a strong notion of frustration between Salamano and his dog, but in no way, shape, or form does Meursault display frustration or adoration for the characters in the story we might expect him to love. It makes me wonder if hatred is necessary for love.