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?

2 thoughts on “How Does One Get Used to Violence?

  1. LENNART L

    I think this is the harsh reality of many people living in places where war is evident. When you are constantly surrounded by danger and your life is being threatened, I believe you develop a sort of numbness to danger, in Exit West, Nadia and Saeed know they can be killed at any moment by soldiers or bombs or guns, and because of this, I believe they become so used to these dangers that they no longer fear these threats, and, in almost a sick way they are ready to succumb to one of these dangers knowing it will happen eventually, and I think knowing that you will die to one of these dangers eventually one way or another is how you become numb to fear and how Saeed and his family barely budge when they hear automatic gunfire.

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  2. VERITY F.

    These questions are really important to ask. As you have said, I have never experienced such a violent, disruptive environment as the one in this novel. The idea of people getting shot at and killed from within their own homes makes me wonder how others still even go outside. This is a very well written piece.

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