In his novel Exit West, Mohsin Hamid uproots the stereotypical roles women and men play in relationships as well as stereotypical cultural expectations. This can be seen through the description of Saeed’s parents’ relationship. When talking about this relationship, Hamid highlights the sexual desires of Saeed’s mother rather than his father’s. He states when talking about Saeed’s mother that “She was also more keen, and so she insisted on repeating the act twice more before dawn. For many years, their balance remained thus” (13). This is a sharp contrast from a book we previously read, The Stranger By Albert Camus. In his novel, Camus highlights the sexual desires and advances of the male character Meursault, enforcing the stereotype that men command the physical aspects of the relationship and women oblige. Hamid completely flips this expectation of gender roles when he says “Generally speaking, she was voracious in bed. Generally speaking, he was obliging” (13). The breaking of the stereotype that men command the physicality of the relationship can also be seen in Nadia and Saeed’s relationship. Nadia is primarily the one making sexual advances, and when Nadia initiates, Saeed responds by saying “I don’t think we should have sex until we’re married” (55). Typically, a woman would make this decision, but in this case, the gender norms were again flipped, portraying the man as more sensitive than the woman.
I don’t think I can write about breaking gender norms in Exit West without talking about Nadia and her black robe. I think it ‘s very telling that Saeed assumes Nadia is religious and prays because of her conservative clothing. Once again, Hamid totally turns your predictions upside down with Nadia’s response to Saeed questioning why she wears the conservative clothing: “So men don’t f*** with me” (17). Beginning this book, I honestly didn’t expect there to be a huge theme of women being individual and female empowerment overall. However, I think that although this arguably isn’t the main theme of the novel, it is one that really stood out to me. I love how individual and empowering Nadia’s character is, and I think it’s a good example to have in literature such as this.