Everyone Is an Other to Somebody

Hamid uses language to portray his characters in a less biased way and allow readers to reflect on how words push power dynamics. From the beginning of the novel Saeed and Nadia’s home country and religion are unknown to the reader. Hamid will purposely avoid mentioning either of these facts and refer to them in general terms. Often people, especially in the middle east, become quickly defined by these things due to perception from the media and other sources. Rather than being quickly recognized as an “other” to readers, Saeed and Nadia’s characters are able to develop without being as burdened by these labels. 

Hamid later flips the script on the west. After Saeed and Nadia take a door to England they arrive with other migrants in a house in London in an affluent neighborhood. As more refugees arrive the British people begin to want them out. Here, the author uses words once again to change how the reader views the stories characters. He chooses to call the British people natives, a term rarely used to describe people in western countries. The term native has a perception as being a term used for those oppressed by another group, such as the Native Americans. This calls out the reader’s own bias using this term and putting the British on the other side of the power dynamic. 

In addition to words Hamid uses the emotions and actions of characters to try to level the playing field for the migrants and natives is showing that the countries they come from are not less than those they are going to. This is seen in the brief passage that cuts away from the story about an accountant on the brink of suicide. The man finds a door in his house and is able to be happy in Nambia. “Later his daughter and best friend would receive via their phones a photo of him…  and a message that said he would not be returning, but not to worry, he felt something” (Hamid, 131). This example of a man happier on the side of the door most people are leaving shows that though people are leaving, these are not bad places. This all allows the reader to get a less biased view of the world and mutually recognize those not from the west as their equals.

Reasons Why People Pray

Exit West was written by Mohsin Hamid in 2017 and is his latest novel. It follows a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, as their relationships blossoms and then crumbles as they face extraordinary circumstances. The world opens in an unnamed city most likely in the Middle East facing a violent civil war. Magical doors appear throughout the world, allowing the two to escape to somewhat safer locations, as Hamid creates a world in which migration can occur instantly and without regulation, which has always been a nightmare for much of the world.

My favorite aspect of this novel is its focus on religion and prayer. Saeed comes from a religious family and has always actively practiced his religion. Throughout the novel, Saeed’s prayer is described as less for a devotion to God or righteousness and more as a coping mechanism for the Hell that is unfolding around him all the time. The simplest evidence for this is the fluctuation of prayer: as times get harder, Saeed and his family pray more and more. This isn’t wrong, morally, nor is it really unusual. It just means that these people are not solely identified by their religion.

Nadia is not so religious. In fact, she presents more modern characteristics to the gender-backwards society that takes place around her. She dons a slick motorcycle and likes doing drugs. She always wears religious attire but only as to not sign her death sentence in public. Nadia’s relationship with religion and her family follows the pattern of a breakup.

Saeed and Nadia have mostly different stances in the way they practice spirituality, but the two are not too different to let it get in the way of their relationship. Even so, this difference always persists. To Saeed, Nadia is an “other”, someone with an unrelatable characteristic which facilitates prejudice. Nadia doesn’t feel as strong of a feeling because she’s always been in the minority in her locations (agnostic/atheist). So while Saeed doesn’t value Nadia less because of those characteristics, he always looks for outside help from people with the same religion and the same skin color for when he feels the most saddened.

Religion plays a part in every instance of violence as well as every instance of love. This distinction can even be difficult to make, as in one of the scarier passages in the novel, where Saeed receives counseling from a friendly-speaking pseudo-preacher.

Saeed was torn because he was moved by these words, strengthened by them, and they were not the barbarous words of the militants back home… did remind him of the militants, and when he thought this he felt something rancid in himself, like he was rotting from within.

Hamid 155

Saeed is entranced by the preacher’s words about uniting under a cause, but at the same time can’t tell if he is turning into a terrorist. An instance where religion is strictly violent would be the rebellion in the unnamed city imposing strict laws. An instance where religion is strictly love would be Saeed’s falling in love with the preacher’s daughter toward the end of his relationship with Nadia.

Hamid does a lot with religion in this novel, focusing on violence, love, reasons why people pray, prejudice for those who don’t (or don’t pray to your God), and tone.