The Invisible Third Person in Saeed and Nadia’s Relationship

Saeed and Nadia’s relationship is not one we often see in novels or movies. Compared to many representations, which come off as spontaneous and easy, the two characters relationship reaches depths of pain, irritation, and fear that is rarely ever shown. But, more rare, is seeing the death of a relationship. And a “death” is exactly what occurs in “Exit West”, or at least how it is portrayed by Hamid.

Hamid writes the relationship of Saeed and Nadia like a third person, complete with multiple facets and an ability to be born and to die. Throughout the book, this new person goes through so many changes and shifts: innocently childlike and playful at the beginning of the book; hopeful but weighed down as the two start travelling across the world; broken and tired nearing the end, but somehow still aware. Just as the two characters grow, so does the relationship, but it almost seems as though the relationship is responding in accordance with it’s environment, as a person interacts with their environment, and not as a result of the characters individual actions. And in the end, just as a person dies, the relationship must as well. Nearing the end of the book Saeed and Nadia bury a drone, and soon after part ways and start separate lives. This burial isn’t just the literal burial of the drone but seems to represent an understanding of the end of another life, their relationship. Something Hamid does well is make the end natural. A natural death, just as it was a natural beginning. Because although this third person died, it shouldn’t prevent a celebration of it’s life or an acknowledgment of it’s existence. Hamid makes sure of this.

Is Mersault Just Crazy?

The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, has one of the most interesting, strange, analyzed characters in literary history, Monsieur Mersault. What separates him from the rest of the character world is his pessimistic viewpoint of life, that it is absurd for everyone and that its only certainty is death. He clearly lacks the basic morals and emotions the rest of the world has, not mourning the death of his mother and killing a man for no reason other than it was hot outside.

Many critics of the story would say that Mersault’s indifferent viewpoint on life is the key to true happiness, defeating the systems of social power brought upon us by our ancestors, seeing the book as Camus’ guide to lead a good life. But is it? Or is it a counter-example to how to lead a life? Imagine a world where killing people for no reason is common, nobody cares for relationships, and the only thing on people’s minds are death. There is no doubt that there is power in the morality system, shaming the people that are not able to control themselves, but is it not necessary to avoid chaos?

Monsieur Mersault is showing himself in the story to be a complete Nihilist, and a pessimistic one too, far away from the existentialist and the optimistic Nihilist. It is true what Mersault thinks, life really does not matter because we are all going to die, but it is not worth still living it to the fullest?Even if life does not matter, is it not a good idea to make it a better place? His actions in the novel, firing off at the priest at the end, killing the Arab without remorse, and showing no respect to women throughout (except for fulfilling his desires), all point to the behavior of an absolute sociopath that really does not care about anyone, not even himself.

Life might not matter at all because we are only here for a short time, but that does not mean people like Mersault should be around to ruin it for all of us. There might be systems of power Mersault is fighting with his strange viewpoint, but the ones he fight are the ones that keep evil and dullness from taking over the world. Camus in this story is showing the audience the extreme existentialism that could be dangerous and that sprouts from his teachings and is telling us not to be Mersault.

It Isn’t Just in Your Head, the Mutual Recognition of “Escape from Spiderhead”

George Saunders’ piece, “Escape from Spiderhead,” conveys an essential message that appears at the end of the reading as Jeff, our narrator, reflects on his past and lets go of his struggles.

“Escape from Spiderhead” takes place in a futuristic prison clinical that test new drugs on criminals instead of having the criminals put into an ordinary jail. The reading follows along with Jeff’s perspective and his thoughts about the events he endures. Jeff experiences a particular experiment, which tests his morals, and he learns more about himself and other than every before.

The specific drug tested, in the time we are with Jeff, is a drug that makes two random strangers fall entirely in love without having been interested before. Furthermore, the drug can turn off the passion, drug-influenced or not. In the beginning, there is no resistance and maybe even some enjoyment, but it starts to make Jeff question many things. He doubts the reality of love and reflects the emotions felt, were they even real? Matters are made more difficult for Jeff as the scientists force him into furthering the experiment to prove the drug to be successful.

Through the experiment, Jeff reflects on his feelings towards others as human beings, compassionate, sympathetic, and understanding. He sees them as his equal even after discovering the horrifying crime they had committed. Jeff’s recognition toward them grew more present over time. It isn’t until the experiment is taking too far that Jeff realizes the truth he has been missing.

During the time of the trial and his “fateful night,” Jeff’s mother had always been there for him, protecting him and trying to put him in a better place. Even after Jeff was convicted, his mom still saw him as a human similarly to how Jeff saw the others during the experiment.

Overall, some may assume mutual recognition is seen when Jeff connects with his fellow mates. But it is not until the end when Jeff decides his fate and thinks of his mother and himself as not a criminal anymore. It is the relationship between mother and son that has evidence of seeing each other as equals and human beings that makes mutual recognition visible.

The Stance “Bloodchild” Has on Gender Roles

After reading through the story for the first time, my mind was filled with questions such as: “What did I just read? Why did T’lics have children by implanting Terrans (Humans) with eggs? Who make a story like this?”

The story sets us up in this unknown society on an unknown planet where Terrans (Humans) and T’lics (Aliens) live with one another in peace. We’re given some backstory as to how the Terrans and T’lics eventually came to be living with each other. They both, at one point, hated each other. Terrans would shoot to kill T’lics while T’lics would assassinate the Terrans at night. However, after years of fighting each other, both groups came together to discuss peace between the two groups. New laws were set among both groups and that leads us back into present day in the story. We follow Gan throughout the story as he discovers the truth about T’lic implantation. Gan was chosen from the day that he was born that he was going to be a NT’lic. NT’lic were designated Terrans that would host and give birth to Grubs, T’lic babies. One thing that struck me was that they typically only went for males.

After analyzing the story a second time, it came to my mind that this story experiments with gender roles. The story introduces this new land where men were giving more births than women just so that the T’lic population could continue to increase. You begin to realize that T’lic seem to have more control over the Terrans. It’s hidden in the words, but each species has a specific role that they’re expected to carry on throughout their life. Besides the point of survival, you come to a generalization stance where you wonder if T’lics only keep Terrans alive because they can be used.

T’lics saw it that men were either expected to have children with other Terrans or give birth to Grubs. For women, they were expected to have more children in order for T’lics to choose who would be the next chosen one to give birth to Grubs when they got older. T’Gatoi, the T’lic that lives in Gan’s home, states in the story that they actually prefer women to birth Grubs because they had more fat in them; however, they choose men so that women can have the ability to birth their own children. T’lics use Terrans only for the mere benefit that they implant their eggs inside of them and have them give birth to the next generation of T’lics.

This story plays with the idea about gender roles in our society and questions: What would happen if men obtained the ability to give birth? Octavia Butler does a good job diving deep into this idea while also telling a story like no other.

The Connection Between “The Cariboo Cafe” and Current Events

The Cariboo Cafe by Helena Maria Viramontes is a short story that follows three different perspectives, that of two young children named Sonya and Macky, The Cariboo Cafe cook, and an unnamed mother. All three sections of the story share the common connection of the characters ending up at The Cariboo Cafe for a variety of reasons, the most important reason being the influence of society.

In class, we discussed how the true protagonist of The Cariboo Cafe is not a specific character, but rather the society and system as a whole.

The Cariboo Cafe was written in 1984, and during this time was the Central American crisis. Countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala broke out into civil wars and communist revolutions that created violence and made it extremely dangerous to live in these places.

As a result of this violence, many Central Americans began to seek refuge in the United States for safety, like Sonya and Macky in The Cariboo Cafe.

Today, many people from Mexico and Central American countries are immigrating into the United States for safety and more opportunity, like Sonya and Macky and the unnamed woman in The Cariboo Cafe.

In The Cariboo Cafe, the cook seems to have closed minded opinions about these immigrants, referring to them as “illegals” and “weirdos” (Viramontes 2981).

Today, President Trump has said similar comments about Mexican immigrants, referring to them as “bad hombres” and “rapists” (Ross, Washington Post).

These closed minded and racist ideals from both the cook and President Trump reveal the consistency of American ignorance and how it hasn’t changed in the many decades between these two events.

It shows that Americans need to learn acceptance and empathy towards those who are immigrating to the United States to escape violence and to better themselves and their families.

Works Cited:

“The Cariboo Cafe”, A short story by Maria Helena Viramontes

Ross, Janell. “From Mexican Rapists to Bad Hombres, the Trump Campaign in Two Moments.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/20/from-mexican-rapists-to-bad-hombres-the-trump-campaign-in-two-moments/.

Bloodchild and Moral Relativism

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler starts out as a very… usual work of science fiction. When I first started reading this story, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen this all before. An alien race enslaves humanity (or rarely, vice versa) and indoctrinates them into accepting their subservient role in society, but one day, some brave, righteous humans find out the truth and begin to strike against their masters in the name of rebellion. The body horror aspects of Tlic reproduction help reinforce the unease they create.

However, that idea is purposeful misdirection. “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery, brainwashing, or aliens versus humans. It’s a complicated tale of Terrans and Tlic both trying their best to maintain their people and freedom in an uneasy and uncomfortable arrangement for both parties. It’s that complexity that makes “Bloodchild” so interesting.

As an outside reader, it’s easy to bring our own morals and norms into a story without realizing it. The reader is tempted to assume that Terrans are forced into a horrible relationship where they have to give horrifying birth to aliens against their will just to advance the Tlic’s society. It’s important to remember, however, that the Tlic race was dying out before the start of the story. T’Gatoi informs Gan that the host animals the Tlic used to use for implantation had been killing most of their young for generations. Humanity represents the Tlic’s only hope for survival.

Additionally, the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere. While the Tlic did treat the humans badly initially, putting them in pens like animals, the story also indicates that the humans did much the same, treating the Tlic like overgrown worms to be detested. T’Gatoi was one of the first Tlic to advocate for the (limited) rights of Terrans, and although that issue is still not perfect, the arrangement the Terrans have is clearly superior to the one they had beforehand.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the mindset and morals of the Tlic are not exactly the same as ours. T’Gatoi sees nothing inherently wrong with implantation because it’s normal in Tlic culture. Likewise, pregnancy is perfectly normal in our culture, despite it being incredibly painful, and before the 20th century, often lethal. Consuming infertile eggs to lengthen one’s lifespan is also normal for the Tlic, even if it might seem artificial or dubious to humans. Mutual recognition is a key idea here — recognizing each other as subjects, not objects. Recognizing that morals and cultural traditions, while often similar, are not universal, is important to understanding the mindsets of other people.

Indeed, that is what the Tlic are — people. The story refers to them as such. Even though they might look like gross, giant centipede-things with the gift of speech and technology, they are still individuals with their own desires, fears, and personalities. On the third page of the story, Gan’s mother implies in a flashback that T’Gatoi herself was somewhat ostracized among her own people for some time. These are living, breathing people with their own society, and we should not reject it just because it isn’t “human”. Love can take many forms, and whether it’s familiar or not, unless it’s actively hurting someone against their will, we should accept it.

Mutual Recognition in “Bloodchild”

Jessica Benjamin explains that people have to recognize everyone as individuals in order to avoid dominance and aggression. People need to build relationships to steer clear of building a hierarchy of dominance. Without building relationships, people will never reach mutual recognition. Benjamin disagrees with Freud’s theory because the theory ignores the need to connect with others. It also only allows for women to be submissive players in their own lives. However, both need to realize the power dynamic in order to reach mutual recognition. 

This need to recognize that you are in a power dynamic is a bit problematic to me because although people in the submissive side do need to realize they are being oppressed for the relationship to change, more responsibility should be given to the dominant side of the relationship. The dominant side enforces the power dynamic and it ultimately up to them to fix the skewed relationship. 

In “Bloodchild” although Gan is ultimately given the choose to decide whether him or his sister should be impregnated, this is not a sign of mutual recognition. The choice is not really his because someone in his family is still going to have to go though this painful process. The terrains do have examples of not completely submitting to the power dynamic. However, the Tilcs are still the ones with the power and will not be willing to give more power to the terrains because then their species would be threatened by not being able to reproduce. The dynamic is very oppressive to the terrains. Gan, since birth, has been brainwashed that it is his duty to be impregnated. When he contemplating not to be impregnated, he was taking some power back but he never reaches mutual recognition. The terrains are seen as a mean to reproduce and not as an individual on the same level as the Tilcs. Mutual recognition would only be achieved if both sides saw each other as equals in all parts of life.