by McKale Thompson
In Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid utilizes magical doors to forgo an explanation of how the characters arrived in their new location. Hamid explained in a reading of his book that the doors help to focus the reader on the location and take away the need for a long, difficult, migration story. But, why did Hamid feel that including a long migration would dilute the real theme of his novel?
My grandparents immigrated to America around the early ’70s, but when my Grandmother discuss their early days in America she never starts her story with how she got here. Could her reason be the same as Hamid’s. The primary narrative of migration is the difficult journey from one place to another especially as a refugee seeking asylum. The media focuses on these difficult journeys to gain sympathy for migrants because otherwise non-migrant people diminish their stories. In countries, like America, that provide asylum seekers with a home, the narrative around migrant populations is that they somehow are taking advantage of the opportunities that the non-migrant residents have earned access to. This narrative is harmful because it makes it difficult for migrant people to find stability in a new country and create the foundation they need to start anew.
When my grandmother came to the United States she was discriminated against by Black people, White people, really anyone who believed they had more claim to opportunities in America because they identified as American. So, the media tries to soften the hearts of non-migrant people by covering the difficult often unbearable journeys of migrants, this, however, is not a solution. By reinforcing how difficult the lives of migrant people are, it allows non-migrants to exclude them and maintain power over them. In Jessica Benjamin’s theory of mutual recognition, she explains how binaries create power imbalances. In this case, there are Non-Migrants and Migrants, and non-migrants people reinforce their power over migrant people by pitying them. Mutual recognition between Migrant and Non-Migrant people would require people to realize that their seemingly stable environment could be destroyed within weeks, and they could be in the same situation as the people who they pity and separate themselves from.
In the case of Exit West, Hamid’s use of doors instead of telling a migration story helps the reader to combat this bias against those who have difficult journeys to safety and realize that just like Nadia and Saeed their normalcy is fragile.