Cultural Assimilation in the Face of Migration

Through the relationship between Nadia and Saeed, Mohsin Hamid makes an intentional choice to explore 2 different kinds of migrants. In the discussion of migration in the novel Exit West, Hamid does an exceptional job of highlighting the personal stories of migrants and much less the physical journey of moving from one place to another. As their journey progresses, Nadia and Saeed begin to grow apart and this can be attributed to their starking differences in assimilation. Both Nadia and Saeed begin to resent each other for the way each other has begun to settle in their new lives residing in London.

Although assimilation is more related to immigrants, who move to one place with the intention of staying permanently, Nadia and Saeed find themselves settled in London long enough to get somewhat comfortable. In Exit West, Hamid directly states that migration inevitably changes those that are migrating and that our surroundings have a powerful impact in shaping who we are.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place.

Hamid, 2017, p.186

Both Nadia and Saeed acquire labor-intensive jobs because that is what is essentially provided to them as migrants. They live together and waver from parting ways due to a sense of security and comfort. Even though it seems like they’re living the same lives and living it together by sharing the struggles of being a migrant, this is a fallacy. Nadia finds it hard to identify with Saeed because he consistently clings to the people and culture of their birth country. Saeed can’t understand Nadia because she still wears her black robes, yet she doesn’t pray and avoids everything that connects her back to their birth country.

In the midst of Nadia and Saeed’s conundrum, the reader gets a glimpse of two different reactions to assimilating and adapting to a change of environment. Nadia embraces the change by using it as a way to reinvent a new life, while Saeed embraces it by recognizing that he can still make connections to home wherever he is. In life, immigrants and migrants battle what it means to assimilate and how much they will allow themselves to assimilate. A common fear is the fear of being stripped of one’s original culture. If you were forced to move from your homeland the way Saeed and Nadia were, whose style would you follow more and why?

Defiance and Acceptance: A Spectrum

Coincidentally, I just finished reading two works that oddly relate. Written by Erika L. Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter directly references The Stranger. In a moment of betrayal, Julia (the protagonist) sits by the lake to read The Stranger in order to calm herself. Since she’s on a school field trip, her English teacher finds her to check if she’s ok.

It’s Mr. Ingman. ‘Hey!’ he says, and sits down next to me. ‘What are you reading now?’

I hold it up for him to see.

‘So, a light beach read?’ Mr. Ingman chuckles.

I nod. ‘I guess so.’

‘What do you think of it?’

‘It’s like nothing means anything. Nothing has a real purpose. I guess that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Sometimes I really don’t see the point of anything.’

‘Existential despair, huh?’

‘Yes, exactly.’ I smile.

(Sanchez, 2017, p. 132)

Throughout the book, Julia’s biggest hurdle is her strained relationship with her mom. Her mom is an undocumented immigrant while Julia is a second generation American. Julia’s story spectacularly paints the struggle of a cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. What does this have to do with The Stranger and Meursault? Meursault is a perplexing character for most readers. Readers are challenged to understand his way of thinking because his thinking is unlike the common person. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter parallels with The Stranger because both of the central characters challenge the idea of “normal.” Throughout The Stranger, Meursault constantly proves to be different from every other character because his thinking and expression of emotions is different. He belittles every event to simplicity. Similarly, Julia is distinct from the other characters of the book because she is not the ideal Mexican, the ideal Mexican daughter. Be that as it may, Julia differs from Meursault because she challenges everything and she steps outside of conformity, while Meursault submits to conformity in almost every situation by being indifferent. I think this can still be leveraged to prove that both characters test the extreme ends of a spectrum on their societal norms.

Meursault: A Severe Case of Depression

The main character in The Stranger is a peculiar character for many reasons. The story is written in the perspective of Meursault which adds various facets to it because Meursault is unlike everyone else in the story. A crucial part of the human experience is emotional feeling and expression. Meursault defies this natural principle of life by showing indifference and apathy in almost every situation he is confronted with. Throughout the story, readers face the challenge of depicting what kind of person Meursault really is because he often fails to display any interest or preference for anything. This leads me to question Meursault’s reason for emotional detachment and the most logical answer I can come up with is a case of severe depression. A symptom of depression is loss of interest in hobbies or in daily life activities. My personal theory leads me to believe that Meursault’s emotional detachment serves as a defense mechanism, or at least is a symptom of mental anguish. Something as major as as his mother’s death barely provokes emotion. His immediate concern is his boss’s annoyance with him taking time off work (3). In addition, when his boss offers him an exciting job offer, Meursault has no reaction or yearn for the opportunity. His boss even gets frustrated with him because he feels Meursault has no ambition, which is true (41). I also think his choice of allegiance with Raymond is alarming. It’s clear in the story that Raymond isn’t a great person, yet Meursault chooses to entertain him when he asks him to write the letter (32). The end of Part I was really what convinced me that Meursault’s state of mind may be unstable. In any book or movie, when a character shoots or stabs someone excessively to murder them, it mainly always signifies a deep anger within the character. In the scene where Meursault shoots the Arab that attacked Raymond, he shoots him a total of five times (59). Besides the first shot, he fired 4 extra times that were very unnecessary, but I interpreted this instance as a turning point for the character. This scene showed a snap within Meursault that the reader had not yet been exposed to and I can’t help but think that there is way more to Meursault than the reader knows at this point.