Doors to Connections

When thinking back over the novel, I noticed the power of connection. Connection, in various different forms, influences every character and their actions. Throughout the novel, as the characters mature, it seems the connections grow more dense and complex with them. 

Travel:

The more literal form of connection in Exit West is the connection of countries through the doors. The big presence of migration in this book reveals the global complexity of connections in this novel. As Nadia and Saeed pass through more doors, entering new places, the narrator develops an increasing omnipotent tone, more complex with every door. Through this travel, the characters are able to connect to more cultures, environments, customs, and even job experiences. “We are all migrants through time.” (209). 

Love:

Possibly one of the most prevalent forms of connection that appeared in the novel was love. Without the drive of love in the novel, Saeed and Nadia would not have lived the adventure they did together. Their initial connection gave them the confidence to begin their travel. “She took his hand in hers and held them tight, and then, releasing them, and without a word, she stepped through.” (104). 

An addition of love for their futures inspired them to find a better life for themselves. Even if Saeed and Nadia’s love was not romantic in the end, their relationship and genuine care for another allowed them to develop their identities and find themselves. Through connections with others in different communities, both Saeed and Nadia were able to learn more about themselves. These encounters with others and Saeed and Nadia’s growth through them caused the two of them to drift apart. However, this space was for the best. Nadia was able to find her own love with the cook and Saeed with the preacher’s daughter. Multiple connections of love led the two to find what they most value in life. This love opened doors in their own lives for more connections and freedom in their own identities. 

Home:

The final main connection I noted was Nadia and Saeed’s connection to their home. Even with the various places they visited, they kept their connection to their home and they kept Saeed’s father in their minds. I believe when Nadia and Saeed both their home, fifty years into the future, the theme of connections is completed. Even after all these years apart from each other, Saeed and Nadia still connect. “It was familiar but also unfamiliar, and as she wandered about slowly, exploring, she was informed of the proximity of Saeed, and after standing motionless for a considerable moment she communicated with him, and they agreed to meet.” (229).

The Tragedy Competition

Pieces of fiction about the experiences of Others can be extremely helpful. They circulate stories and experiences, and help information reach far away readers. When reading a story, we are transferred to another world. The characters become our closest friends, and their issues become ours. It’s a wonderful experience, but it is very easy to disconnect it to reality.

When we enter these other worlds, it’s hard to forget that it’s truly our world, our Earth—just a fictional version of it. It’s easy to, in a way, glorify these experiences. To see them as legendary or mythical, and forget that real people go through these real things daily. It’s easy for these stories about Others to only alienate the Others more.

We see movies about girls carrying water in vases on their heads for miles. We read books about refugees fleeing death and gunfire that has consumed their homes. Yet instead of bringing us closer to these people, to creating a sense of similarity, we seethe with sympathy and grow our view of them as sufferers. Instead of increasing their humanity, these pieces of fiction can reduce them to their suffering, to their negative experiences. The person fleeing that death and gunfire, who is every day facing terrifying changes and situations, is transformed from a unique human being into just a Refugee. We simplify their complexity into just a label. Instead of being a person who had a complex and interesting life, who has complex and interesting emotions, and had a unique and traumatizing experience, they become just a story to be sorted into the general type of trauma they went through.

After placing a concrete label on these sufferers, we then place value only on their struggles. In the world we live in, suffering seems to come in different degrees, with the amount of sympathy given by onlookers dependent on the degree. This refugee lost his sister and his home, but was able to safely escape with the rest of his family, all in good health. Another refugee lost all of her family except her mother, who was severely wounded and lost the use of her arm. Should one refugee deserve more sympathy than the other? Should one receive more aid than the other? It’s as if those in developed countries have a certain amount of sympathy to expend, and choose who to give it to depending on the level of their struggles. Oh, you had to leave your entire home and country and life behind, but you didn’t lose any limbs and your family remains whole? Eh, I’ve heard worse. I’ll save my sympathy for someone with less remaining siblings.

You can see this sympathy dynamic all throughout our lives. Someone’s history of childhood abuse is only valid if they were beaten, if they have scars. Someone’s coming out story is only worth hearing if their parents disowned them. We compare our own struggles with others’ constantly in a corrupt effort to justify ourselves. It’s like a tragedy competition. Whoever is the most miserable gets the sympathy and a gold star!

While understanding the suffering of others is good, while feeling sympathy for those struggling is helpful, it’s incredibly harmful to reduce those who are suffering and struggling to just their misfortunes. It transforms a room of individuals with unique experiences into a mass who all have the same label. The focus of the life of the sufferers becomes their suffering. It’s not their hobbies or interests, nor their personality or traits. They are reduced into something less than human.

It’s so important to resist this, to remember that every single one of us here on this world is more than our negative experiences, more than the harm that we have been subject to, more than the trauma we carry with us. Yes, refugees deserve sympathy and care. But it’s not because they lost their leg, or lost their family. It’s because they aren’t labels, and they aren’t stories we hear about. They are real life, bona fide human beings.

The Melting Pot

In Exit West, one of the common themes is borders and border security. This issue is still very relevant today. Borders are not real; they are a social construct that society accepts. In Hamid’s novel, there are so many migrants that the borders get more and more blurry throughout the novel. When Saeed and Nadia were in London you saw people get violent over their fear of the other as more migrants flooded in through the doors. In today’s America, the issue of border security is a very hot button issue. Some people are very concerned about illegal immigrants and border security which is seen in some of the natives in Exit West. The violence in London is something you could see happening today in the US. What we see in Exit West, though is something we need to remember, is everyone is a migrant. America is a country made up of migrants which is why when we talk about border security it almost seems funny since 90% of our country is made up of migrants or ancestors of migrants.