It’s not hard to notice the stark differences between The Stranger and Exit West. At a fundamental level, we as readers are no longer following a possibly deranged sociopath. On a more literary level, we as readers have been charged to forgo our new found ideas of existentialism. In an unnamed war-torn region, Nadia and Saeed spend their days in the constant knowledge that these may be their last. Balmy sunny mornings are not an opportunity to go to the beach with one’s lover, instead, Nadia and Saeed spend their quiet moments to secure emergency supplies and the means of escape. See, Nadia and Saeed can’t afford to be existentialists. The “life has no meaning” attitude doesn’t really fly when people are depending on you. The idea that existentialism is a luxury isn’t quite noted in The Stranger. From Exit West, you realize the deeper purpose of some of our social constructs. You always can say that religion, family structures, and relationships have been used to oppress others in the past. But when we take a closer look, these are also the structures that push us to stay alive. When Saeed’s mother is senselessly killed, Saeed and his father turn to one another and their shared religion to grieve. These societal pillars allow the two to move forward and progress with their lives. You could make the argument that if Saeed’s father was an existentialist, then he would have been able to move on from the absence of his wife. If he didn’t feel such a loving connection to his lost wife, he could have made the more rational decision, and made the passage through the doorway. But by refusing to accept this existentialist rational, Saeed’s father may have saved Nadia and his son. Saeed no longer has to be entrusted with the safety of his father. A burden that may have slowed him down in the long run. Saeed as a character somehow manages to keep a positive outlook on life, even in the midst of all of the chaos he has experienced. You could make the argument that his strong faith has allowed him to perceive the world in this light. He clings to the loving relationship he shares with Nadia and his religious views to get him through each day. In contrast, Mersualt rejected religion and a traditional relationship. Two aspects that may have prevented him from making the choices he did. And in the end, where does he end up? The gallows.
When I began this novella, I had an eerie feeling in my stomach. I could tell that something was disconnected about Meursault, but I was starting to wonder if there was something off with me. The problem was, I felt bad for Meursault. Even after his heinous murder, I felt a twinge of remorse for him. In his sun saturated state, I recognized the isolation of his character. After finishing part one, I was ready for a dynamic class conversation. I found it frightening that I kept coming to the aid of Meursault. I blatantly was defending him. How could I be so defensive of a character who had vouched for someone who had physically abused their partner? How could I defend someone who took the life of another without a second thought? How could I like a character who was more alarmed by the beads of sweat on his forehead rather than the passing of his own mother? I believe this sympathetic view didn’t stem from being an internalized sociopath, but instead emerged from something much different. At least I hope…
I honestly was jealous of Meursault’s carefree attitude. I began to empathize with him. Meursault was not confined by any social systems. He acted on his own pure will. High school students specifically are controlled by an array of power systems. Students have to conform to social standards that have been created by some unnamed force. At the same time, we are expected to pursue secondary education and find steady employment. We are expected to make all of these major life decisions as mere teenagers. Though only a few years ago, we weren’t allowed to operate a vehicle or even see a rated R movie on our own. The Stranger is such an impactful book to read in high school, because the absurdity of life that Camus recognized, seems to be bursting from the seems here. I will never concede that Meursault is a hero, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t learn from Camus’ message. My sympathy for Meursault is due to his understanding of life’s absurdity. Part of me believes his death represents the death of the greater population of individuals who died as outcasts of society. The other part of me recognizes the literal reasons for his death. Needless to say, I find my emotions toward Meursault frustrating and conflicting. Who knows, maybe I’m just a borderline sociopath.
The underlying theme of this narrative is deception. As the reader progresses through the story, they are keenly aware that both the husband and the wife are deceiving one another in different ways. The husband in the narrative describes his own actions as a “school boy lie” (Colette 327). He disguises himself in costume to remain anonymous at the opera. I think the reader too often jumps to the guilty actions of Irene, and fails to observe the distrusting behavior of her husband. As he judges her seemingly split personalities, he fails to reflect on his own shortcomings as a husband. These shortcomings are exemplified by his perception and description of his wife. On page 327, he depicts his wife’s face as “pink, matt and long, like a delicate sugared almond.” In this moment, he is clearly objectifying Irene. In his mind, she is the beautiful entity that can be fully controlled and understood. As soon as she wavers from his personal image of her, she becomes “like the conger-eels”. It’s interesting to assume that as Irene adds to her elaborate costume, more of her true identity is revealed. Her goal in this story is to achieve “the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state.” (Colette 331). In essence, she wants to be herself. In order to achieve this blissful state, she approaches the battle field of constricting gender norms by wearing her own suit of armor. Her lace mask and purple hood give her confidence that allows her to strive for her own sexual desires. I think what conflicts her husband the most, is that she only desires to “collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy”(Colette 331). He wants to view this dramatic adulterous event, but is instead left dumbfounded by her uncommitted affairs. He is left unsatisfied and confused by the complexity of his wife’s character.