How can appearances influence how we treat people?
In Stuart Mclean’s Emil, Morley learns that Emil, a homeless man who lives in her neighborhood, has a lot more to him than is first recognizable. Morley realizes after talking to Emil and spending time with him over the course of three years, that though his social status may be different from her own, doesn’t mean that he has to be treated with unrelenting pity. Nobody enjoys when people treat them a less than human, and Emil regularly feels the need to explain to people “I have enough” (111). Morley is seemingly frequently torn between wanting to help Emil and respecting his wishes. The relationship that we see growing over the course of the story between Emil and Morley begins as a curiosity from Morley towards Emil’s situation, and then blooms into acceptance and eventually participation in his life. Emil’s physical appearance, made up of “a pair of ripped pants and slippers” (109) and hair which makes him appear “frighteningly like Rasputin–bearded and dirty, wild and crazy”(109) as well as mannerisms and speech patterns which can only be explained as ‘different’, have an immediate almost involuntary effect on people who see or meet him. People tend to fear the unknown and Emil is a person that people often have a difficult time relating to, simply because of how he is presented in the world. In the story, we also see examples of people treating Emil with this unconscious bias, such as when people shy away from and even pointedly avoid him even when he’s trying to give them money, something most people would accept in any other situation. Morley ends up displaying the unpopular belief that Emil is just like the rest of the people in her neighborhood and deserves to be treated as such. When reading Emil it’s easy to say to yourself that Emil shouldn’t be treated differently because of where he stands, yet the unfortunate truth is that many of us tend to have similar views surrounding homeless or mentally disabled, or generally different people, as characters like Dave, or Sam or Stephanie or the countless unnamed characters who looked down upon Emil with nothing but passive sympathy, cold aloofness, frustration, and even fear. A valuable lesson that we can learn from Emil is: a person’s outside appearance does not always realistically reflect of who they are, as we are able to see that once Morley looks past Emil’s exterior she “could see him–the real person” (116).