Nothing But Animals: An Exit West Analysis

 “She felt fear, a basic, animal fear, terror, and thought that anything could happen”

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In his novel Exit West, Mohsin Hamid uses vignettes to display the effects of the migration through the eyes of different people across the world. Unpacking these vignettes is always a pleasure to do in class as they always bring us as readers closer to the story, immersing us into the world.

In one of his vignettes following a woman facing the effects of the greater world migration in her home country of Vienna, Hamid conveys the theme of people exhibiting reactions of nativism, and activism in response to the civil unrest. Hamid does this through displaying the native peoples of Vienna reverting to a sense of comfort in power dynamics, inevitably losing their humanity, with the woman displaying courage, and hope, actively protesting the invasion of the militants and supporting the migrants. Hamid conveys this distinction metaphorically through an an extended metaphor of animals representing nativism. 

In lines 34-35, upon entering a train on her way to protest, she’s met with hostility from other citizens she considers family due to their shared nationality. “She boarded the train and found herself surrounded by men who looked like her brother and her cousins and her father and her uncles, except that they were angry, they were furious, and they were staring at her and at her badges with undisguised hostility, and the rancour of perceived betrayal, and they started to shout at her, and push her, that she felt fear, a basic, animal fear.” Here Hamid points out their animal like behaviors of the men on the train towards the Woman, showing how the civil unrest in the country has caused them to lose their humanity, attacking one of their own for advocating and maintaining humanity towards the migrants.

In lines 40-44 of the vignette, we see the Woman going to begin her journey to protest the militants occupying her country, going towards a zoo to do so “She gathered her courage, and she began to walk, and not in the direction of her apartment, her lovely apartment with its view of the river, but in the other direction, the direction of the zoo, where she had been intending to go from the outset, and where she would still go.” The choice of the location where she protests being a zoo, alludes to the overall inhuman actions of both the militants Viennas citizens toward both the Woman attempting to support those seeking asylum in the country.

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