The Old Woman From Palo Alto

Reading the ending of Exit West, one scene in particular stood out to me. Starting on page 207, Hamid opens a narrative about an old woman who has lived in the same house in Palo Alto nearly all her life. Hamid puts forth effort into ensure that the reader establishes an emotional connection with this women. A tone of melancholy and lonesomeness is created through descriptions of the old women only maintaining contact with a single granddaughter (208).

But what makes this character so interesting is that she represents, in some sense, the collective push back on migration. Hamid creates a whole novel dedicated to the idea that migration is inevitable and should be met with open arms. The old women, albeit somewhat subtly, shows disdain for those around her, “All sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was.” Although she is not an extremist, the old woman provides insight into the mind of the native. From her point of view the collective migration has left her feeling displaced and somewhat uncomfortable and though she doesn’t act on these feelings, they are a muted version of the sentiment of the native who confront the migrants.

I liked how Hamid waiting until the end of the novel to put us in the shoes of the native. The concluding line of this short narrative was, “We are all migrants through time” (209). This impactful, for me, echoed back to a brief conversation that happened in the book were Saeed reflects on the idea that those who claimed to be native of the united states and that the true natives were scarce.

Art and Existentialism

When reading into existentialism, I found an article titled, “Why Creativity is the Cure for Nihilistic Despair,” though the title is somewhat misleading. The article delved into how and why many existentialist turn to art. The general argument made by the author is that, for existentialist, we are not born with any inherent meaning nor is there a overarching meaning in life. In order to exist alongside a lack of meaning (absurdity), we must develop our own sense of meaning. This is where the author argues that for many art creates this personal meaning.

In the modern world, there is a sense of heroism that is synonymous with having an eternal spirit. We all fear death and in order to maintain sanity we concoct narratives that help deconstruct the terror of death. For some, this manifests as religion or spirituality. The idea of heroism is that we go out of our way to take on an active role in society, through carriers, relationships, etc., because we feel that these roles will prevent us from being forgotten after death; they are your mark on the world that makes you somewhat eternal despite inevitable death.

The existentialist thought suggests that heroism is not genuine and by participating in it you are feeding into the “myth of significance of human life” (Ernest Becker). Instead, the way to live is by first accepting absurdity, meaning you accept that there is no ultimate purpose. Once you acknowledge absurdity, it is up to you to live your most genuine truth which does not originate from the social construction around you, rather it is a product of you mind alone. This is the concept of rebellion.

The author of the article I read argues that the artist is the ultimate rebel. The artist remains conscious about the absurdity of life and uses that lucidity to formulate art. That art is there genuine truth and meaning and prevents them from sliding off the edge of existentialism into nihilism. Ernest Becker articulates tis concept well, “the most anyone of us can seem to do is to fashion something — an object or ourselves — and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.”

Salamano and His Companion

Throughout the progression of part one of The Stranger, it becomes clear that the protagonist Meursault does not experience human in emotions in the same way they are typically presented.

This trend become particular clear when Meursault is repeatedly asked by his partner Marie whether or not he loves her. This question it met by a response of, “it [love] didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her.” This conversation that surfaces twice in the first part of the story illustrates Meursault’s indifference towards human emotion. While he doesn’t explicitly expression a distain from love, he clearly demonstrates that, for him, love is insignificant.

What I find most interesting about the book so far is how the relationships Meursault observes reflects his own view on intimacy. This dynamic is most prevalent in Salamano relationship with his dog. When the two are first introduced in the story, it is clear that they share a tumultuous relationship which most outsiders view as abusive. When Celeste voice that he finds the relationship, “pitiful,” Meursault internally disagrees and voices passive indifference. Later in the story, when Salamano is emotion distress after losing his dog, he reaches out to Meursault asking whether he believes his dog will be returned to him. Rather then comfort the old man, Meursault’s response is clear and calculate, expressing that ponds only, “kept the dogs for three days, then after that they did with them what they saw fit.” Both of the instances illustrate that Meursault view on emotional relationships is detached from any sort of empathy. He therefor places very little regard on his own relationships, resigning himself to little emotional intimacy.