How Does One Get Used to Violence?

In Exit West by Moshin Hamid, lovers Nadia and Saeed live in an unnamed city that is being overtaken by militants. Throughout the chapters of the book, the narrator switches between Nadia’s perspective and Saeed’s perspective. There is constant violence and threats in their city, and the way the characters describe this violence speaks to how a war environment impacts them.

As Saeed sits with his family on their balcony, observing the stars, fighting breaks out in the distance. Hamid writes, “… Saeed’s family heard the sound of automatic gunfire, flat cracks that were not loud and yet carried to them cleanly. They sat a little longer” (16). The description of the scene provides insight into the lives of those who live in places of war. Saeed and his family are familiar enough with gunfire know it is automatic gunfire, and the description of its clean noise infers that they are aware that the shots are being fired not too far away. Though they know it is automatic gunfire, that they violence is taking place near to their home, they do not act startled. How can one hear gunfire, a threat to ones life and safety, and not immediately take shelter? As someone who has never been in a place of war, I cannot imagine how steeled one’s emotions and reactions must be to stay seated outside. How does one get used to violence? How does this living environment change other aspects of one’s thinking, such as other emotions like empathy or confidence?