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Literature / Cockroach

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“Other humans gaze at the sky, but I say unto you, the only way through the world is to pass through the underground.”
The nameless narrator on his own philosophy on life.

Cockroach is a dark comedy book written by Rawi Hage in 2008.

The plot is centered around a Middle-Eastern immigrant who had settled in the slums of Quebec. Unhappy with his impoverished situation and haunted by his past, he eventually tries to commit suicide, but fails due to being rescued against his will by police officers. He is then forced to attend sessions with a well-intentioned but naive therapist. The story is focused between the narrator's past (his childhood and life in his original homeland) and present (his current struggles in the unfamiliar country of Canada).

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This book includes examples of:

  • Addled Addict: The narrator and Reza.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Played straight throughout the story.
  • Animal Motifs: The narrator associates himself with the cockroach. The cockroach is known as a pest that is infamous for being incredibly hardy and tenacious. In the story, the narrator uses his persona as a cockroach to succeed in his kleptomania, as well as the infiltration of homes.
  • An Immigrant's Tale
  • Anti-Hero: The narrator.
  • Author Avatar: In an interview, Hage described the narrator as his persona.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality
  • Crapsack World
  • Creepy Cockroach: The narrator hallucinates a huge albino cockroach. The insect declares that Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth.
  • Cowardly Lion: How the narrator sees himself when he failed to protect his sister.
  • Dehumanizing Insult: The main reason why the narrator is fired from his job as a restaurant busboy is because the owner felt that he looked "too well-done" in his skin tone.
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  • Domestic Abuse: The narrator's sister gets frequently abused by her husband. It eventually escalates to the sister getting murdered.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: The narrator and his friend Reza both take advantage of a group of French-Canadians who are fascinated with Middle-Eastern culture.
  • French Jerk: Subverted. Though there are no French people in the story, there are plenty of French-Canadians who fulfill this trope.
  • Gay Best Friend: Faroud to Shohreh.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: After hearing about how his brother-in-law treated his sister, the narrator decided upon directly confronting him with a pistol. Unfortunately, his marksmanship is extremely poor, and he fails to hit any shots. Later in the story, Shohreh also takes her chance to shoot Shaheed, but fails to land any of her bullets.
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  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Shaheed gets ready to sexually assault a restrained Shohreh near the end the story.
  • Incest Subtext: The narrator seems to have subtle incestuous feelings for his sister.
  • In Medias Res: How the story begins.
  • It's All About Me: The narrator's perspective about existence.
  • Islam: At one point, Reza refers to himself as a "Sufi", a Muslim ascetic and mystic. A Sufi is known for teaching and converting disciples via music and performance.
  • Karmic Thief: The narrator tends to steal from anyone who he feels has wronged him.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Played straight with the narrator. He deliberately keeps his small apartment in a mess, as he feels the most comfortable in that environment.
  • The Middle East: All of the major named characters originated from Middle-Eastern countries. There are also subtle hints that the narrator in Cockroach originated from Lebanon.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The narrator kills Shaheed and his bodyguard with Shohreh's gun.
  • The Peeping Tom
  • Power Perversion Potential: The narrator uses his power to transform into a cockroach to sneak into the homes of women.
  • Rape as Backstory: Shohreh was raped by Shaheed in the past.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: What Shaheed did to Shohreh is treated as a horrendous act.
  • Snow Means Cold: The present story takes place in Quebec, Canada during the winter.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: The narrator accuses Reza of being a perpetual moocher who preys on naive rich women, leeching from their money, homes, and bodies.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
  • Unreliable Narrator: As the story progresses, it is revealed that the narrator is on medications to treat his suicidal tendencies and delusions. It is left ambiguous whether or not that his narration is accurate, or if his recollection and actions are shrouded by his fantasies.
  • Unwanted Assistance: How the narrator feels about the mandatory therapy sessions he must take.
  • Urban Segregation: As a Muslim immigrant, the narrator lives in a run-down part of Montreal.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Due to the narrator's machinations, he manages to help Reza gain the trust of a bunch of snotty nouveau riche Canadians.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: The narrator and Reza are best friends, but also rivals.
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