The Heart of Darkness

My favorite moment in Exit West occurs early on in the novel on pages 7-10 when the story abruptly shifts to a sleeping woman far away. At first, these few pages seem out of place and confusing, but now that I have finished the story, I see their purpose. I see why Hamid introduces this section so early on. He injects this seemingly random moment to begin developing a theme right from the start of his book. 

Hamid transitions from Saeed and Nadia’s story to a scene in which he plays with the reader’s preconceived notions of the global other. A “pale-skinned woman” covered by “a sheet even paler than herself” is sound asleep as a “dark man” with “dark, wooly hair” emerges from a dark “doorway” (7). These few pages are littered with literary techniques, the most important one being the contrast between light and dark. Hamid paints this scene in Australia to cause the reader to assume the worst of this man. Darkness is often associated with evil while white is associated with purity and goodness. Additionally, Hamid uses words like “monstrous” and “emerging” to add to the intensity. At first, the reader can’t help but fear for the woman as this man invades her home. Then, he “chooses the window,” and the man leaves in an instant (10). 

Looking back with my knowledge of the magical doors, it is clear the man just arrived in Australia from “not infrequently perilous circumstances” (9). In the story, Saeed and Nadia are desperate to escape to safety. This man is no different. Global others are not different. Like all of us, they are simply looking for a better life. Other than physical borders between countries, Hamid makes clear that our biases against the global other alienate them. He shows the reader that even they can succumb to these issues. The man never intended to harm the sleeping woman. He doesn’t do anything to her. Instead, he drops “silkily to the street below” (10). 

The World’s Door

Across the world, many people may feel stuck in their lives and unhappy, whether it be someone in an abusive household, someone living in a dangerous country struck by war, or even someone with everything they could want that feels trapped. However, the “Doors” that Hamid mentions throughout the novel represent an opportunity for these people to changes their lives. Much like the case in which Saeed and Nadia got to go through the door, which was immigrating, and they found new opportunity in new land. Virtually anyone can use these doors, only if they are ready for this change. Hamid not only shows this one example of the positive use of these doors, but uses multiple examples of people that could have gone through these doors for a better life, but chose not to.

“The woman who slept, slept alone. He who stood above her, stood alone. The bedroom door was shut. The window was open. He chose the window. He was through it in an instant, dropping silkily to the street below” (8)

On the surface, it may seem like this woman was living a stable life at the beginning of his description of her life. However, she felt stuck, both in the place she lived and in her relationship. Should she choose this door, she could possibly find a better life and start new, however it required for her to pursue this change, which many humans are afraid to do, so instead of grabbing the knob and opening a new possibility of change, she chose to turn away from this door, and live in what she knew as “Stability”. Life would remain dull for her forever, simply because she did not go through the door.

Finding Security

In Exit West, Hamid toys around with the idea of what makes people feel safe, secure. The protagonists of the novel, Saeed and Nadia, find themselves in constantly changing situations. They see their home dissolve into violence and war, they try to seek asylum in western countries, and they have to support themselves when separated from everything they once knew. How can they feel safe?

When in their home country watching it fall apart around them, they find a sense of security in each other. Saeed, Nadia, and Saeed’s father are living together, protecting one another. They developed a close-knit family that trusted each other and depended on each other. This is demonstrated when Saeed’s father asks Nadia to “remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger.”(97). In their home, where windows were dangerous and doors were a luxury, they were each others only source of protection and the sentiment of safety.

After immigrating through the doors, Saeed and Nadia are not free of problems. They are faced with racist, xenophobic acts from natives and the constant fear of not knowing what comes next. They are still not safe. Nadia’s method of combating the uncertainty is finding a sense of normalcy. In Marin, she does this by sharing a joint with Saeed, something they shared before they immigrated. Saeed found a safe haven through prayer. He began to pray more often and when he did “he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched…”(202). Praying provided a connection to the people he loved and lost, who also happened to be the same people who made him feel safe. Religion also lead Saeed to find communities where he felt he could belong. In London, he became a part of a house that was inhabited by people from his home country. The familiar food, language, and prayers drew him in. “It made him feel a part of something.” (152). Saeed must have realized how being a part of a religious community made him feel safe, because in Marin, he finds the preacher and quickly became a part of that community.

Hamid understands the importance of security when escaping trauma and how everyone’s needs when it comes to security are different. This is illustrated by Saeed’s praying and his commitment to religious communities and Nadia’s desire to relive the happier memories of their past.

Portraying Global Others

Over the past few decades as media has advanced and developed a larger role in the lives of everyone, people have become more and more susceptible by what the media tells them. Social media platforms, the news, and even television have been telling the story of global Others from a very specific and fixed point of view. People are shown everyday that global Others are “breaking into our country” or that they will “steal your job” and continually are villainizing the very people that this country relies on for so many things. Everyone in the United States has a migrant ancestor no matter the color of their skin and yet migrants are looked down upon by the media with large influence.

In the novel Exit West by Moshin Hamid, Nadia and Saeed are forced to leave their home and journey to a safer place. The media is a large part of their lives as it connects them to the outside world and their home. Throughout the book they read news articles and media posts about the migrants, such as themselves, all over the world. There were acts of violence towards them performed by natives because the presence of migrants in their city made them “uncomfortable”. This roots in how the global Other is publicly portrayed in the media, it plants fear and anger when technically, we are all global Others.

The Dating Game

My opinion on relationships is very similar yet very different to the opinion of the author of Exit West. I feel like relationships are very important yet I feel if they are the relationships you are supposed to have then they will last. I don’t like how Nadia and Saeed kind of fell of at the end of the book and it doesn’t represent how lasting relationships should act. Yes most marriages end in divorce or at least half but maybe those relationships weren’t supposed to be. I’m a big believe in faith and I feel people end up with the person they are supposed to end up with. I agree with the Author and I do believe that a life without relationships isn’t really a life and I personally thrive off of them. I don’t even just mean dating when I say that, I mean friends, family, and dating. People need other people to get through hard times caused by other people. It’s kind of funny how human nature works: we get hurt by humans and lean on humans to get us through that pain. That’s exactly what happens in the story with Nadia and Saeed. I agree with the author that relationships are needed but I don’t like how they ended for Nadia and Saeed.

Why Do We Fear the Other?

The United States is a nation made up almost entirely of migrants or people who’s ancestors were migrants. Despite this fact, people today still fear the “other.” They fear people that who have a different appearance, a unique language, or who eat different foods.

Moshin Hamid displays this same concept in his novel Exit West. As Nadia and Saeed traveled through doors to new countries they were seen as the “other.” They were migrants from far away and many natives in the countries they traveled to did not like their presence. Hamid writes about “a mob that was intending to attack migrants” (109), and a “night of shattered glass” (135), both acts of violence that are aimed at migrants. Even Saeed, who experienced first hand what it felt like to be the other, had instances where he feared people who weren’t like him. At one point during their journey, Saeed went to Nadia and told her he wanted to move to another house “to be among our own kind” (153), because Saeed felt uncomfortable and scared living in the house filled with people from countries he wasn’t used to. Both the natives, Saeed, and the other migrants feared each other simply because of their differences.

I think in our world today much of this fear comes from how “the other” is portrayed, whether is be in the news, social media, or even in textbooks. We are often only shown negative aspects of other nations such as violence and war and this creates fear of the other.

The Suffering of Change

There are positive aspects to life and negative For some it’s overwhelmingly the ladder, others would be the former. Regardless, both deal with change at some point in their lives. If death is the only certainty in life, then change is a certainty as well. People die everyday, and along with those deaths are changing lives. The theme of migration is interpreted in many different ways, which in Exist West is about the scariness of it as well as the overwhelming positive aspect of it for the specific character of the story. Change applies to everyone’s lives, and to give one example that everyone can relate to is almost impossible. One I would assume would be moving to a new house. The suffering of change equates to the suffering of existence itself. When one finds normalcy and comfort in their surroundings in an absurd meaningless reality, they are able to live side by side with their mortality (as long as there actually is comfort). To grow up/mature is to apply the reality of death to your life in continuously changing ways that fall in line with your values. That on it’s own is possible in any environment. But values do not always associate with well-being. One can live by their values and still suffer. The greatest comfort is living a life that gives you all the core human needs, including a familiar environment and routine. To have that stripped away in the name of change (or migration in Exist West) is painful. It’s incredibly difficult to instantly apply your values to a new life because there is a period of suffering you must endure before you’re able to start to get comfortable ang grow.

You Can’t Run From Change

In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, Hamid gives the reader perspective on the life of migrants and their assimilation to the places that they migrate to. By focusing on the actual assimilation into their new homes, rather than the journey, Hamid humanizes the migrants and helps the audience understand that they desire normal lives and to fit into society as much as any other citizen.

Throughout the novel, Hamid shows through many of the different character perspectives that change is inevitable. For the migrants, the change that they endure is very drastic. Moving to a new a country, learning a new language, working new jobs, and learning to socialize with new people are just a few examples of the changes that migrants go through. While migrants endure the changes of moving to a new place, the natives have to accept the change and fact that new people (migrants) are moving in. Some natives are heavily against migration. This is demonstrated in the novel when Nadia and Saeed face a mob of natives in London: “The mob looked to Nadia like a strange and violent tribe, intent on their destruction, some armed with iron bars or knives, and she and Saeed turned and ran” (134). In this situation, the anti-migrant natives physically attacked migrants, which emphasizes how much they were against embracing and changing how things were. While this is the case, even more migrants continued to move to London and workplaces for migrants were soon established, which demonstrates that even while a person or group of people may be against change, it will still occur.

America: The Land of the Free?

This country prides itself on being a free and democratic country. You can argue whether that’s true or not as it honestly depends on who you are, what your values are, and what you stand for most. However, I don’t believe that this country really is what many think of it to be in the eyes of immigrants. The way we talk about, write about, and act about immigration does not in any way show us as such a great place. There is land on land on land that is unused in this country while MILLIONS of refugees seek safe places to live without the pain and troubles of their current homes. So what are we doing??? Not helping much. This nation often views worldwide issues as ‘not our problem’ because we think other countries should be able to deal with things on their own. But my view stands as if we can help why aren’t we doing absolutely everything in our power to do that. While I am not comparing or saying these are the same level issues, the U.S. has refrained from getting involved in global issues previously. We waited years to step in during WWII which wiped out millions of people before we even attempted to help. Sometimes it’s not about what’s best for our country, but rather what is best for humanity. If given the opportunity to help those in need, no matter who they are we should try to take that chance. Because at the end of the day, we’re all migrants.

We’re the Real Migrants

I never understood why certain migrants were considered dangerous and others were not. In kindergarten, I learned about Christopher Columbus, hearing from teachers and books that he was a hero. Later on in life, I realized he was actually a complete jerk who kicked the true Americans out of their homes, assaulted women, and killed many. So wasn’t Columbus the dangerous intruder?

Somehow after all of this chaos, the people who stole America began to view the original Americans as intruders. How hypocritical is that?! Why are Americans so afraid of refugees if every family in America has a background of migrants? Why are these migrants seen as dangerous when the reason American citizens are American citizens is because of an intruder who destroyed the lives of many innocent people?

In Exit West, the author, Mohsin Hamid, constructs a scene which makes the reader view migrants through the lense of terrified Americans: “The door to her closet was open. Her room was bathed in the glow of her computer charger and wireless router, but the closet doorway was dark, darker than night, a rectangle of complete darkness–the heart of darkness. And out of this darkness, a man was emerging” (8).

Later on in the story, the reader begins to understand immigration and respect Saeed and Nadia’s journey from their dangerous home to different countries.

So why are so many Americans afraid of migrants? I believe the main reason is the media. The media doesn’t have to be true, in fact, in the film “Social Dilemma,” the speaker states that the ads, pictures, videos, and posts you see on your phone are actually selected based on what you tend to watch and think about. This means that what is selected for you doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be a topic that is entertaining for you. People can find videos about the dangers of refugees and become engrossed in them even though there is no evidence supporting the information. That is how social media companies make their money.

The best way to learn about immigration is to speak to living immigrants. A couple years ago, I completed a science credit in Costa Rica. My class and I met refugees from Nicaragua. These men had lost their families and risked their lives to move to Costa Rica. Their homes were too dangerous to live in and they were wanted and threatened by their own government. This was truly an emotional experience and it helped me to understand refugees. It is not about stealing jobs in different countries or selling drugs. It is about finding a safer home. Keep in mind, these refugees had to leave their families and have no contact with them. Immigration is not something many people desire, but it is critical for many because their lives are at risk.

Christopher Columbus on the other hand….It seemed like he was the one in it for the land and money.

Exit West: We are all The Others

In the novel Exist West, Mohsin Hamid comments on the concept of the “others”. He demonstrates that anyone can be seen as an other depending on factors such as time and space. As Nadia and Saeed travel from place to place throughout the novel, Hamid depicts their journeys as empty and unfulfilling because they are seen as the outsiders. Who makes them feel this way? And why? 

We have all experienced this feeling (although possibly less drastic than this case) at some point in our lives. Vacationing in another country, moving to a new school or town, even walking in to school on the first day as a freshman. As I think more about this, I have realized that in some of these cases, we decide we are the “other” and therefore act as one in an effort to avoid intrusion. However in the case of Exist West, Nadia and Saeed are not at fault and are unable to control what someone else perceives. They come from a different country, a different background, a different culture, marking them as different, even when relation is not exclusive to where we were brought up. 

Hamid touches on this subject again towards the end of the novel through the maid.

“…and she felt she was a small plant in a small patch of soil held between the rocks of a dry and windy place, and she was not wanted by the world, and here she was at least known, and she was tolerated, and that was a blessing” (Camus, 224).

The maid is describing her experience towards being an “other”. Feeling unimportant and unwanted in the large world, she finds security in her occupation as she feels needed and appreciated. 

We all may feel like the “other” at some point, and that is almost unavoidable. We cannot control how we are seen, but what we can control is how we act in those situations. We can either accept our fate or turn the tables in discovering a new part of ourselves in appreciation for human connection despite the differing odds.

A Beneficial Apocalypse

In the political climate of many of today’s wealthier nations, the attitude toward migrants and refugees of war, especially from what are considered third world nations, is hostile and exclusionary. Migrants are often viewed as corrupting forces in these places due to hailing from countries afflicted with war, poverty, or other poor conditions, and in his novel Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid challenges these prejudiced notions. After the protagonists of the novel, Saeed and Nadia, arrive in London as refugees from a war-torn country, they experience nativist backlash against their presence. Hamid, with a conversation between Saeed and Nadia, relates the reason for this opposition to migrants in first world countries. Saeed says he can understand London’s reaction to the migrant influx, asking Nadia to imagine if “millions of people from all over the world suddenly arrived” in one’s home, to which Nadia responds “Millions arrived in our country.” Saeed then argues “That was different” because “Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose” (164). Through this interaction, one understands that people of wealthier nations are keen to preserve domestic prosperity, and when a number of poorer individuals from struggling regions of the globe seek residence in a place like London, the natives become protective of their successful society, thinking the migrants will detract from their riches. They, as a result, attempt to drive the migrants away. After presenting these fears of the members of first world nations, Hamid then illustrates what actually happens when migrants, such as Saeed and Nadia, are integrated into the societies they seek entry to.  

In Marin, a suburb of San Francisco that Saeed and Nadia and numerous other migrants settled in, an onset of depression occurred, this depression being a “failure to imagine a plausible desirable future for oneself” (217). Helpless against the flow of newcomers and uncertain as to how their region would fare with the incoming foreign influence, the people of the Bay Area became dispirited and anxious for their futures. However, “while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with” (217). Life in Marin continued, and its residents adapted to the new circumstances, integrating and becoming familiar with each other. The “apocalypse” of a migrant influx “appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic”; in fact, “plausible desirable futures began to emerge” (217). With amalgamation, Marin rose out of its depression, because everyone slowly became comfortable with the evolution of their city, and they were once again able to imagine desirable futures for themselves. With additional time, “there was a great creative flowering in the region” (217). Through this narration of the interaction between Marin’s natives and its arriving migrants, Hamid describes the reality of accepting migrants into one’s homeland: everyone will adapt to the shifts in society, and life will proceed with success attainable for all. Therefore, unlike the preconceived notions of many insinuate, migration is not an apocalyptic event, and in general, it serves to enhance a society by enriching it with new perspectives, giving rise to a creative flowering for all to benefit from.