Types of Migration in Exit West

  1. Doors

Doors are the clearest form of migration in Exit West, as they are quite literally how Saeed, Nadia, and the other migrants are able to travel from one place to another. They connect the world, causing new cities, homes, and cultures to be born, speeding up the process of migration as we experience it now. 

  1. Technology

There is a clear focus on the connective power of technology in Exit West. Though one cannot physically move with a phone or a TV, technology still serves as a way in which citizens of Hamid’s world connect with and become a part of larger communities. This is how technology acts as a secondary form of migration — it allows people to travel, experience, and become a part of worlds outside their own. 

  1. Relationships

The relationships in Exit West change throughout the book. Nadia and Saeed leave their families, grow apart, and meet new people. Other families come together, like at the orphanage in Tijuana, or the two old men connected by doors. Such change in personal relationships can be seen as migration in how people are consistently forming new homes and communities with new people. 

  1. Time

In the era of constant global change seen in Exit West, physical locations everywhere undergo dramatic shifts over time. Nadia and Saeed’s hometown changed since their parents were young, became a place of turmoil, and calmed down. Cities break and form again because of rapid migration. Even natives are not immune to migration, as the world is changing through time. 

  1. Stars

Stars are a recurring motif in Exit West. Stars migrate through the sky, and eventually return to the same place, over a world changed. This is analogous to Saeed and Nadia’s experience. They moved throughout the world, together and then apart, and eventually returned to their hometown, different people in a different yet familiar community. 

How to Live a Happy Life as an Existentialist

If you are an existentialist, the central idea of your existence is that life is absurd. The structures of life that we blindly follow, such as family, wealth, power, or love, are nothing but illusions. At its core, life is a meaningless drift towards death. An existentialist will believe that holding this depressing view will free them to be true to themselves, allowing them to live as a complete individual and achieve authentic happiness. 

But how can one be truly happy from essentially accepting that life has no greater meaning other than life itself? It seems that an existentialist, if they wholeheartedly believe in these ideas, would always have a dark cloud around them from living a life only for themselves. No one, nothing in life, can give them any meaning. It is a lonely existence. They must create happiness from within themselves, letting nothing from the outside world be a source of their happiness. Then, and only then, can an existentialist be happy, by reaching a point where they are satisfied by themselves and are in full acceptance of the world.  

A great obstacle to an existentialist is reaching that point, as they need to give themselves over to those ideas with not an ounce of disbelief. All sources of happiness from any “illusions” must be completely forgotten. This can only be achieved if they have an experience that convinces them of the world’s absurdity, likely some sort of trauma, and separate themselves from all other sources of happiness, like human connections. At first, it will be hard, like Meursault’s first days in prison or Sisyphus’ initial attempts rolling the rock up the hill. Then they will adjust to their conditions, and reach a point where they can accept them. And finally, they will be able to create their own happiness from within themselves. 

This process is long and difficult and full of suffering, even though it can lead to a point of happiness. A life that is more happy might be better achieved by giving yourself over to the apparent illusions of life, becoming a part of a constructed society. If life is absurd, there is no difference between fake and authentic happiness. 

Is Meursault a Bad Person?

Meursault clearly sees the world analytically — he is highly observational, he doesn’t express high emotional attachment, and he makes decisions based on what little wants and what he thinks makes sense. This does not mean that he is selfish, in fact, he often acts unselfishly, agreeing to others’ requests even if he gains nothing from completing those requests.

Even though as readers we may judge the lack of attachment, ambition, or emotional understanding expressed by Meursault, this itself does not make him a bad person. It is simply a different view of life. Where this becomes tricky is how Meursault’s incapability to emotionally connect with others affect his decision making and relationships with others. 

For example, Meursault seems to be emotionally abusive to Marie. When she asks him if he loves her, he bluntly responds, “It didn’t mean anything but I probably didn’t love her” (41). Such a harsh answer seems like a horrible thing to say, and it is evident that he doesn’t really care for her on a deep level, even though she expresses a desire to be cared about. But, even though he can treat Marie poorly like this, he still respects her decision making in the sense that he won’t consciously try to hurt her, and if she left him for being hurtful then he would let her. Therefore, if Marie is hurt, it is partly her fault too, for allowing herself to be hurt. This definitely does not make Meursault’s treatment of Marie okay, but the complexity behind it means that it does not make him a fully bad person, just a flawed one.

Similar logic can be applied to many other of Meursault’s actions, such as agreeing to help Raymond abuse his girlfriend, turning a blind eye to his neighbor’s treatment of the dog, and even when he killed the man on the beach. Not one of these times did he do these things in an attempt to be hurtful, which would theoretically make him a flawed person. However, this argument must be used carefully. The difference in these situations and Marie is the agency of the other person involved. Unlike Marie, the girlfriend could not choose not to be abused. The dog cannot freely escape his owner. The man could not decide not to be shot. It is here where Meursault’s inability to empathize becomes not just a flaw but something that makes him a bad person. 

I conclude that Meursault is a bad person in the sense that he is the sole contributor of harm caused to other people. Of course, the definition of “bad person” can be slippery, depending on one’s own interpretation of the meaning. It follows that this would change the nature of the conclusion on whether Meursault is or is not a bad person.