Purposely “off topic”

While “Exist West” is first set in an unnamed war-torn country, author Mohsin Hamid includes an excerpt about a scene in Australia. When the reader first reads this portion, it’s hard to make any sense of the characters’ actions and the section’s place in the story’s plot because it is not clear yet that characters can travel through doors. However, after reading the novel, the reader can find commentary on subjects such as migration and race.

When I first read the excerpt, like so many others, I did not think of the woman in bed as a migrant. But with Hamid’s details of her, it is clear that she is a migrant who is part of a “gentrification of this neighborhood” and used the previous owner’s “alarm only sporadically.” However, this woman’s migration is different than that of Saeed’s or Nadia’s because of choice. The woman in Australia has a tattoo, “birth control pills,” and some gum, all emphasizing a mood of choice and comfort. This is a contrast to the two main characters’ migration, as their migration is more about fleeing a dangerous area than simply choosing to move.

One reason why I may have thought of the woman as not a migrant is because of inescapable implicit-bias that we all have. Maybe if Hamid had not described her as “pale” over and over again, she would have appeared to be a migrant just like Saeed and Nadia.

Who keeps who colonized?

One power dynamic that is present in The Stranger is the relationship between Europeans (colonizers) and Arabs (the colonized). Throughout the novel, Meursault depicts the Arab characters as distant, skulking people by calling them simply “the Arabs.” Furthermore, not one character calls an Arab character by name, not even that of the Arab who is murdered by Meursault. This decision by Camus could reveal how a colonizing relationship between two countries can strip the colonized people of their identity and group them in a single description such as “Arabs.”

One scene in the novel that is hard to overlook when examining the book’s commentary on colonialism is Meursault’s initial jail scene. As Meursault enters the jail, “they (the Arabs) ask me what I was in for. I said I’d killed an Arab and they were all silent.” Again, Meursault does not refer to any of the Arabs by name, and he continues to group the individual Arabs into just a single group. But more importantly, the Arabs do not retaliate against Meursault, even though they have the physical power in the situation. This phenomenon hints that although the Arabs are being oppressed by their colonizers, they are also supporting the very power dynamic that oppresses them, whether it be intentional or not.

The Therapist

In Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger, the main character is portrayed as an emotionless, bland man who makes little human connections. However, multiple characters vent to Meursault about their problems or thoughts. For example, Raymond enters Meursault’s apartment to discuss his thoughts on his mistress. Similarly, Salamano goes to Meursault’s apartment after losing his dog and says, ”What’s going to happen to me?” (39). Also, Meursault’s boss discusses a plan of the business with Meursault because, “He (the boss) just wanted to have my opinion on the matter” (40-41). 

By the end of “Part 1,” it is clear to the reader that characters venting to Meursault is not a coincidence. Despite the potential issues of being emotionless, Meursault’s ability to listen to others’ is valued by three separate characters, making him a pseudo-therapist. Furthermore, these interactions reveal how people can be valued in relationships; the ability to genuinely listen to another person about things that are completely unrelated to one’s own life strengthens relationships. Meursault checks this box, despite him being portrayed as emotionless.