Cultural Assimilation in the Face of Migration

Through the relationship between Nadia and Saeed, Mohsin Hamid makes an intentional choice to explore 2 different kinds of migrants. In the discussion of migration in the novel Exit West, Hamid does an exceptional job of highlighting the personal stories of migrants and much less the physical journey of moving from one place to another. As their journey progresses, Nadia and Saeed begin to grow apart and this can be attributed to their starking differences in assimilation. Both Nadia and Saeed begin to resent each other for the way each other has begun to settle in their new lives residing in London.

Although assimilation is more related to immigrants, who move to one place with the intention of staying permanently, Nadia and Saeed find themselves settled in London long enough to get somewhat comfortable. In Exit West, Hamid directly states that migration inevitably changes those that are migrating and that our surroundings have a powerful impact in shaping who we are.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place.

Hamid, 2017, p.186

Both Nadia and Saeed acquire labor-intensive jobs because that is what is essentially provided to them as migrants. They live together and waver from parting ways due to a sense of security and comfort. Even though it seems like they’re living the same lives and living it together by sharing the struggles of being a migrant, this is a fallacy. Nadia finds it hard to identify with Saeed because he consistently clings to the people and culture of their birth country. Saeed can’t understand Nadia because she still wears her black robes, yet she doesn’t pray and avoids everything that connects her back to their birth country.

In the midst of Nadia and Saeed’s conundrum, the reader gets a glimpse of two different reactions to assimilating and adapting to a change of environment. Nadia embraces the change by using it as a way to reinvent a new life, while Saeed embraces it by recognizing that he can still make connections to home wherever he is. In life, immigrants and migrants battle what it means to assimilate and how much they will allow themselves to assimilate. A common fear is the fear of being stripped of one’s original culture. If you were forced to move from your homeland the way Saeed and Nadia were, whose style would you follow more and why?

2 thoughts on “Cultural Assimilation in the Face of Migration

  1. Brendy F.

    This is an interesting take on the differences between Nadia and Saeed, however I think it it important to consider what people give up through assimilation. Nadia has never really had as much a connection to her home country as Saeed did. Saeed was ripped away from his parents by war, parents that he completely associated with and looked up to. In contrast, Nadia did not have as deeply-rooted connections to her old home. Nadia’s family split up with her due to ideological differences, and this departure, while painful, contained a certain closure not present in the death of Saeed’s parents. Nadia did not have much of her old country to cling to compared to Saeed, who was not nearly as used to being independent.


  2. Charles D.

    I enjoy this observation. I suppose one could view migrants and their assimilation to a certain culture on a spectrum. Nadia and Saeed are on different sides of it. Furthermore, I thought that Saeed especially had a very strong character in this way. It was clear that he was devoted to old ways. Nadia was a bit more of a free spirit. I wonder if Hamid made this construction intentionally in an “opposites attract” manner.


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