Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358
The characters of Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness demonstrate what happens when individuals who feel like they don’t belong must decide between rebelling against their community and trying to make it work, pushing their square pegs into the round holes of society.
The 16-year-old narrator Naomi “Nomi” Nickel feels out of place in her repressive Mennonite town called East Village. She longs for the excitement of New York’s East Village. She describes the controlling grip of her religious community with irony and wry, dark humor. Toews’ choice of her name may be a reference to the Biblical character Naomi whose daughter-in-law Ruth provides an example of loyalty. Nomi feels trapped by her loyalty to her father, Ray, staying home with him rather than leaving the community as did her older sister, Tash, and shortly after, her mother, Trudie. When Trudie suggests Nomi leave as well, she retorts, “I'm one of the ones who can't [leave] because you're one of the ones who did and there's this old guy in a wool suit sitting in an empty house who has no one but me now thank you very, very, very much.”
Tash and Trudie provide a foil for Nomi’s attempts to stick it out in her Mennonite community where she feels different from others. Ray tries to be the model citizen while still feeling torn by his loyalty to his rebellious wife and daughter. The townspeople are kept in line by the church pastor, Trudie’s brother, Hans Rosenfeldt, nicknamed “the Mouth.” He is a self-righteous man who controls the community under threat of being shunned—isolated and ignored even by one’s own family.
Other characters include Nomi’s best friend, Lydia, a fellow odd duck in their typically conformist town. Nomi’s boyfriend, Travis, at first seems to be likeminded, as Nomi remembers that “somehow Travis mentioned the name of Lou Reed without acting like a fawning dork about it and I knew then that I wanted to be his girlfriend.”
The characters of this coming of age story highlight Nomi’s development as she navigates her own identity in relation to her community.
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