The Old Woman From Palo Alto

Reading the ending of Exit West, one scene in particular stood out to me. Starting on page 207, Hamid opens a narrative about an old woman who has lived in the same house in Palo Alto nearly all her life. Hamid puts forth effort into ensure that the reader establishes an emotional connection with this women. A tone of melancholy and lonesomeness is created through descriptions of the old women only maintaining contact with a single granddaughter (208).

But what makes this character so interesting is that she represents, in some sense, the collective push back on migration. Hamid creates a whole novel dedicated to the idea that migration is inevitable and should be met with open arms. The old women, albeit somewhat subtly, shows disdain for those around her, “All sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was.” Although she is not an extremist, the old woman provides insight into the mind of the native. From her point of view the collective migration has left her feeling displaced and somewhat uncomfortable and though she doesn’t act on these feelings, they are a muted version of the sentiment of the native who confront the migrants.

I liked how Hamid waiting until the end of the novel to put us in the shoes of the native. The concluding line of this short narrative was, “We are all migrants through time” (209). This impactful, for me, echoed back to a brief conversation that happened in the book were Saeed reflects on the idea that those who claimed to be native of the united states and that the true natives were scarce.

3 thoughts on “The Old Woman From Palo Alto

  1. TATE S.

    This also connects to the theme of how change comes inevitably with the passage of time. The woman’s begrudging acceptance of the new people in her home town is perhaps indicative of the thoughts of many Americans experiencing migration in the past forty years especially. Hamid chooses every word carefully, and I’m still discovering new meaning in this passage.

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  2. Amelia R.

    I think the passage that you are referencing is a really interesting one. I think it clearly shows that migration is inevitable and how nearly everyone is a migrant in some sense. Even though in the typical sense she is farthest from a migrant since she lived in the same house for most of her life, she is a migrant in the ever-changing culture that surrounds her.

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  3. Sofia W

    I agree that this passage was very important for the novel. I like how you mentioned that we do have a sense of empathy for the woman even as she is pushing back against migration and by extension the main characters of the novel. Hamid purposely prevents us from casting her as a simple villain.

    Liked by 1 person

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