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). 

One thought on “The Heart of Darkness

  1. Sam S

    I like your take Nick. It’s interesting to me that you point out some of the phrasing Hamid uses in describing the darkness like “monstrous,” implying that Hamid is not only relying on the readers implicit biases but also nudging the reader in a particular interpretive direction (think also about the scene being at night; there are very few reasons a stranger might be in someone’s home at night which is definitely not true during the day). I personally have a hard time resolving these nudges: if Hamid thinks that the reader will make the assumption on their own then it seems excessive to include them, but if Hamid doesn’t think the reader will make the assumption the point of the passage kind of falls apart since there are no literal repercussions in the novel to the otherization of the person coming out of the door (they are not hurt or anything), the only repercussions are in the readers mind. What are your thoughts on the matter?


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