What it Means to be Native in Exit West

Something that Exit West has made me realize about myself is the way that I think of being a native. We’ve all heard before that no one is really a native anywhere, especially the United States. I’m very aware of this, however, when Hamid mentions that in Marin, there were “almost no natives, theses people having died out or been exterminated long ago” (197), I was shocked. I found myself thinking of the predominantly white European Americans “native” to California. If I had been thinking of the genocide of the actual Native Americans from the beginning of the passage, I would probably not have reacted in this way as my perspective is different from that of Saeed, Nadia, or the narrator.

Whether intentional or not, it reminded me of the way the narrator often sets things up one way, allowing the mind of the reader to run with what he’s implied, and then takes it back. The most notable example of this is perhaps the dark skinned man who comes out of the closet, only wishing to safely escape the room of the white woman. The passage about the natives effectively had a comparable effect on me as when his eyes rolled “terribly, or perhaps not so terribly”(9), the refugees were “stunned, maybe, or resting. Possibly dying” (26), and Nadia’s coworkers were either “looting” or receiving “payment-in-hardware” (70).

Hamid has many great passages in Exit West about what it means to be a native in a changing world, but this was one that could easily have gone unnoticed by a more conscious reader than I.

Guilty as Murderer, Convicted as an Existentialist

Throughout The Stranger, Meursault is attacked by society for not valuing family, love, kindness, religion, and friendship as highly as they think he should. Whether it was the death of his mother, his relationship with Marie, or his opinion of neighbors, Meursault’s indifference was, as best, met with scrutiny from the other characters and often from the reader.

This is taken to the extreme when he is on trial. He admits to having killed the arab, but this isn’t enough to sentence him to death. The Prosecutor consistently focuses the jury on Meursault’s reaction to the death of his mother rather than the murder he committed and is on trial for. The death of a close family member is supposed to be something that is important to people and there is an expectation of what the right way to react is.

The court is disturbed by his apparent lack of interest and more ready to find him guilty of murder. As he writes on page 92, it was “a crime made worse than sordid by the fact that they were dealing with an monster, a man without morals.” The murder itself is not what sentenced him to die, but his personal beliefs. Raymond, the only witness who had insight into to the actual murder, was only brought up to establish Meursault’s connection with an unsavory character in an attempt to further establish his character.

In some ways, the trial scene seemed to be a literal representation of the feelings that someone with existentialist beliefs would face everyday in society. People like Meursault make them uncomfortable because they don’t understand his perspective.

Flipping the Tlic/Terran Binary

Something that I noticed while reading “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler was that the T’ often preceding Tlic names seemed to function as a title.  The T’ in T’Khotgif changes to Ch’ after she produces offspring as evidenced by T’Gatoi’s reference to her shortly after the birth: “‘T’Khotgif—Ch’Khotgif now’”(173).  

This may imply that these titles carry a sort of respect and formality, similarly to the way we would address our superiors as Mr, Ms, and Mrs.  If this is the case, then the way that characters in “Bloodchild” use these titles would tell us more about their relationships with their Tlic and the power dynamics that are implied.  

Before Lomas is cut open, he calls out for his Tlic, T’Khotgif, by her full name.  Gan recalls this later: “‘He said ‘T’Khotgif.’ ’ Qui shuddered. ‘If she had done that to me, she’d be the last person I’d call for.’” (171)

Qui, who is clearly uncomfortable with the Tlic, also refers to their family’s Tlic by her full name while asking Gan how he viewed their relationship “‘while T’Gatoi was picking worms out of that guy’s guts’” (172)

However, we see this binary being broken towards the end of the story when Gan addresses his Tlic, without the prefix.  This has an effect similar to using a teacher’s first name and signifies a shift in their relationship.

I believe this was intentional as Gan, frustrated and emotional from the situation, does it repeatedly while he challenges her: “‘Ask me, Gatoi.’” (174) and “‘There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.’” (175) While these quotes would have made sense without “Gatoi”, seeing this binary start to change as Gan begins to question her is quite powerful.