Why Did Hamid Need Magic Doors?

by McKale Thompson

In Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid utilizes magical doors to forgo an explanation of how the characters arrived in their new location. Hamid explained in a reading of his book that the doors help to focus the reader on the location and take away the need for a long, difficult, migration story. But, why did Hamid feel that including a long migration would dilute the real theme of his novel?

My grandparents immigrated to America around the early ’70s, but when my Grandmother discuss their early days in America she never starts her story with how she got here. Could her reason be the same as Hamid’s. The primary narrative of migration is the difficult journey from one place to another especially as a refugee seeking asylum. The media focuses on these difficult journeys to gain sympathy for migrants because otherwise non-migrant people diminish their stories. In countries, like America, that provide asylum seekers with a home, the narrative around migrant populations is that they somehow are taking advantage of the opportunities that the non-migrant residents have earned access to. This narrative is harmful because it makes it difficult for migrant people to find stability in a new country and create the foundation they need to start anew.

When my grandmother came to the United States she was discriminated against by Black people, White people, really anyone who believed they had more claim to opportunities in America because they identified as American. So, the media tries to soften the hearts of non-migrant people by covering the difficult often unbearable journeys of migrants, this, however, is not a solution. By reinforcing how difficult the lives of migrant people are, it allows non-migrants to exclude them and maintain power over them. In Jessica Benjamin’s theory of mutual recognition, she explains how binaries create power imbalances. In this case, there are Non-Migrants and Migrants, and non-migrants people reinforce their power over migrant people by pitying them. Mutual recognition between Migrant and Non-Migrant people would require people to realize that their seemingly stable environment could be destroyed within weeks, and they could be in the same situation as the people who they pity and separate themselves from.

In the case of Exit West, Hamid’s use of doors instead of telling a migration story helps the reader to combat this bias against those who have difficult journeys to safety and realize that just like Nadia and Saeed their normalcy is fragile.

Anti-Immigration Migrants

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid does an excellent job of analyzing how migrants are perceived by the communities they move into. One of my favorite lines expressing the ideas of anti-immigrant proponents is in Chapter 6 when Nadia is watching the woman from the Vienna art gallery on board the train,

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 (110)

The most interesting part of Nadia’s observation is that people withthese beliefs exist and are probably more common than many would believe. Somebody’s looks don’t tell the whole story of their opinions or emotions. I’m not sure how common it is in real life but there have certainly been examples in history where people dislike others similar to them because they don’t like their past identities (or ones they don’t want to associate with anymore). These feelings come in many different forms such as pity, remorse, or the hatred and anger expressed by the men in the passage. I think this is a really interesting look at the human psych and how we view ourselves compared to other people.

On Migration: Time

by Jasmine Wood

Hamid’s level of detail on the smaller, more specific events and interactions of his characters in his novel Exit West creates a relatability to which his readers connect, despite the overarching circumstance of violence and conflict and resulting refugee crisis. While it is clear the novel’s attitude toward global change and immigrants is targeted mostly towards an audience far removed from the experiences of its characters, there is an equally important message of finding unity and respect despite cultural differences. The most readily example would be Nadia and Saeed’s lives early on before their city fell apart. They had movie theaters and cell phones and social media and hallucinogenic drugs – all things that almost every reader can relate to. And so, Hamid effectively bolsters his novel’s theme with subliminable connections that are impossible for his readers to deny.


However, another way Hamid unites his audience is through his writing’s attitude toward change. Even though the change in Nadia and Saeed’s lives is very different than, say, the old woman’s, the author still manages to connect them through the mode of time. Throughout the entire story, the author constantly uses phrases such as “back then” and “in those days.” Consequently, he reflects on his characters’ experiences on a scale of time – past, present, future. Similarly, he utilizes the same phrasing when discussing the personal changes of supporting characters, such as the old woman and her house in Palo Alto. Thus, readers make a connection between the larger global changes and smaller personal changes because both of them are framed as ‘before’ or ‘after’ or ‘now’ or ‘today’ or ‘back then’ or ‘in those days.’ So it is on this level, too, that readers are able to relate to people seemingly a world away. After all, in Hamid’s words, “We are all migrants through time.”

Time is a Jeremy Bearimy

In the show The Good Place, during Season 3 Episode 4, the concept of time in the afterlife is explained. On Earth, time is a straight line and events move chronologically. In the afterlife, time moves in a fluid chaotic line, which happens to look like the name Jeremy Bearimy.

Jeremy Bearimy. Past, present, and future are one and… | by HB | Medium
Jeremy Bearimy Diagram from The Good Place

This idea that time and reality aren’t related to each other got me thinking about the book Exist West by Mohsin Hamid, where Hamid created the doors that allow people to migrate instantaneously. According to Hamid, he wrote these doors as a plot device to allow him to not make the story all about the migration journey, but rather the feelings and experiences before migrating and once arriving to a new location.

My question is how do those doors work?

In this universe that Hamid created, time is exactly as we know it except in the instance of moving through the doors. There is no way for you, sitting there right now at home, to walk through a door located in The United States and end up in Greece only a couple minutes later. This balance between time and changing location reminded me of Jeremy Bearimy, where some times the line of time crosses back over itself, loops are created within the line, and there is even a dot above the eye (which according to the diagram signifies Tuesdays, July, Sometimes Never, and The Moment When Nothing Never Happens). The unbelievable, whimsical and chaotic reasoning of time helps explain away some plot holes within the show, and could also have been inspired similar to Hamid’s inspiration to make his migration instantaneous.

Not an Other

In the media today, stories of migrants are written in a way that emphasizes their journey, their struggle, and the hardships they come from. Essentially, these stories do their best to create an “other”, to emphasis everything that makes migrants different from the person reading the story.

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid takes a different approach. The book focuses heavily on relationships between people, particularly Saeed and Nadia, as well as familial relationships and the connections Saeed and Nadia make with different people as they traveled away from their home. Everyone has relationships of some sort with people in their lives, and so people reading this book, who most likely live in entirely different circumstances from Saeed and Nadia, are able to relate in that way. The use of doors as methods of traveling from place to place reduces the emphasis of the physical journey of a migrant and allows the reader the focus on what is more important: who the characters are and the connections they form with others.

Exit West combats the narrative of migrants as nothing more than a distinct “other” from non-migrants. It emphasizes the things that humans have in common, regardless of what part of the globe they are from.

Media and Global Others

The media is the source we look to for information on other countries. The media plays the biggest role in news about global others. Never directly hearing from these countries we always get the half of it (the news). The media portrays countries from their perspective. We rarely hear good news of these others. We rely n the media too much. Other countries have problems and we only hear about the consequence. The media is known for shining a negative light on these global others. The media tells you the daily so you can continue your normal day. Why should be reply on the perspective of the media to hear about other countries when we could get our own. The media reports the news but never when it’s bad they offer help. Our influences comes from the media. Everyday life for people in other countries are documented and these documents are also sad or violent. We always get someone else’s perspective regardless because the media, documentaries, and movies are the roles and where are information on global others is acquired.

Is The Door to Recognition Blocked?

The Global Other is universal; humans tend to fear the unknown, which often manifests itself in fear of people who are not in their direct communities. Though many can relate to such a phenomenon, it is outdated and we have surpassed a need for such irrational fear. In more recent years, the work that has been done by progressive groups in order to aid immigrants and dispel some fear has made differences in the lives of many.

In order to completely dispel these ideas, a level of mutual recognition must be reached within the relationship with the “Other”. In Exit West, this Other is the immigrant, the refugee. In this power structure, the Nativists/Natives are in power and must break this by seeing their new neighbors as equals. However, this goat in itself would be a feat to achieve. To recognize someone is to see, but it may not be possible to understand people who have undergone such trauma. Hamid writes, “…when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind” (98). The Natives cannot even fathom a world in which they have to leave their lives behind, the door most immigrants came from. Though the dominant in the power structure can imagine and attempt to relate to such instances, there is no way to truly understand the life of another, and any claim to is equal to an insult.

Instead, the dominant in this structure should aim to appreciate their counterparts, to hear their stories with an open mind and heart, and understand that though they can recognize, they cannot fully empathize.

The American Dream

In the novel Exit West, a major idea presented is migration. While Nadia and Saeed are in England, the british people don’t want all of them coming in at first. This is very prevelant in reality with not only fugitives but just migration in America. Some people in the US are scared of people people taking their jobs which I think is ridicuclous. If a person that has most likely had a more difficult life than you can come here and take a job from someone, then I don’t think the people who were here originally are working as hard as they could.

My ideals about migration mostly stem from Dad. He legally came to the US from India when he was 13 and worked so hard for him and his whole family. Without knowing English until he came here, my Dad was able to put himself through med school and bought a house for him, his parents, and his siblings. I think many immigrants have his mentality that the hardest part was getting making it to the US. He was preparred to work as hard as possible to get ahead from the moment he got here. He is the only reason my family is currently in a wealthy neighborhood and if he could do it then I think lots of other migrants can too. It does not matter to me if immigrants got here legally or illegally because they should all be given a chance to thrive in the US.

The Suffering of Change

There are positive aspects to life and negative For some it’s overwhelmingly the ladder, others would be the former. Regardless, both deal with change at some point in their lives. If death is the only certainty in life, then change is a certainty as well. People die everyday, and along with those deaths are changing lives. The theme of migration is interpreted in many different ways, which in Exist West is about the scariness of it as well as the overwhelming positive aspect of it for the specific character of the story. Change applies to everyone’s lives, and to give one example that everyone can relate to is almost impossible. One I would assume would be moving to a new house. The suffering of change equates to the suffering of existence itself. When one finds normalcy and comfort in their surroundings in an absurd meaningless reality, they are able to live side by side with their mortality (as long as there actually is comfort). To grow up/mature is to apply the reality of death to your life in continuously changing ways that fall in line with your values. That on it’s own is possible in any environment. But values do not always associate with well-being. One can live by their values and still suffer. The greatest comfort is living a life that gives you all the core human needs, including a familiar environment and routine. To have that stripped away in the name of change (or migration in Exist West) is painful. It’s incredibly difficult to instantly apply your values to a new life because there is a period of suffering you must endure before you’re able to start to get comfortable ang grow.

America: The Land of the Free?

This country prides itself on being a free and democratic country. You can argue whether that’s true or not as it honestly depends on who you are, what your values are, and what you stand for most. However, I don’t believe that this country really is what many think of it to be in the eyes of immigrants. The way we talk about, write about, and act about immigration does not in any way show us as such a great place. There is land on land on land that is unused in this country while MILLIONS of refugees seek safe places to live without the pain and troubles of their current homes. So what are we doing??? Not helping much. This nation often views worldwide issues as ‘not our problem’ because we think other countries should be able to deal with things on their own. But my view stands as if we can help why aren’t we doing absolutely everything in our power to do that. While I am not comparing or saying these are the same level issues, the U.S. has refrained from getting involved in global issues previously. We waited years to step in during WWII which wiped out millions of people before we even attempted to help. Sometimes it’s not about what’s best for our country, but rather what is best for humanity. If given the opportunity to help those in need, no matter who they are we should try to take that chance. Because at the end of the day, we’re all migrants.

Exit West: We are all The Others

In the novel Exist West, Mohsin Hamid comments on the concept of the “others”. He demonstrates that anyone can be seen as an other depending on factors such as time and space. As Nadia and Saeed travel from place to place throughout the novel, Hamid depicts their journeys as empty and unfulfilling because they are seen as the outsiders. Who makes them feel this way? And why? 

We have all experienced this feeling (although possibly less drastic than this case) at some point in our lives. Vacationing in another country, moving to a new school or town, even walking in to school on the first day as a freshman. As I think more about this, I have realized that in some of these cases, we decide we are the “other” and therefore act as one in an effort to avoid intrusion. However in the case of Exist West, Nadia and Saeed are not at fault and are unable to control what someone else perceives. They come from a different country, a different background, a different culture, marking them as different, even when relation is not exclusive to where we were brought up. 

Hamid touches on this subject again towards the end of the novel through the maid.

“…and she felt she was a small plant in a small patch of soil held between the rocks of a dry and windy place, and she was not wanted by the world, and here she was at least known, and she was tolerated, and that was a blessing” (Camus, 224).

The maid is describing her experience towards being an “other”. Feeling unimportant and unwanted in the large world, she finds security in her occupation as she feels needed and appreciated. 

We all may feel like the “other” at some point, and that is almost unavoidable. We cannot control how we are seen, but what we can control is how we act in those situations. We can either accept our fate or turn the tables in discovering a new part of ourselves in appreciation for human connection despite the differing odds.

If We Are All Others, Is There Such Thing as an Other?

In the novel Exit West, Mohsin Hamid writes towards the end of the story with the last words, “We are all migrants through time”(209). After reading this, I reflected on this statement and tried to grasp the meaning of it. However, pondering this sentence only left me with this question…

If we are all others(migrants), is there such thing as an other?

My definition and what I have come to terms with is that “an other” is classified as — not a majority and alienated from the rest of the group. As I became more reflective, I realized that I still consider myself an other as a person of color in a predominantly white community because Asians make up about 5% of the population in Oak Park. When looking globally, I am a part of the majority race. There are more Asians in the world than any other ethnicity.

The same thought process can be put into terms with migration. Oftentimes, people look down upon people migrating from one part of the world to another especially when not done legally in fear of the people bringing more chaos into the United States. But, people move from one part of the country to another all the time. Understandably, the migrators are doing it without proper documentation, but in the bigger picture, they overall are the same.

Going back to Hamid’s sentence, I’ve realized that when expanding the lenses of an other, there is always going to be an opportunity to be “an other” but when taking a step back and approaching, a very simple, but complicated thought, we can all be categorized as “an other” in something. Even further, we can all be “an other” and take part in the same thing as Hamid said–with time.

Progression

Throughout Exit West Nadia and Saeed go through doors to escape, but when they get to the next world they realize their problems haven’t been solved as another replaces it. Additionally as they are running the reader sees the pair start too loosing their connection, as each decisions they makesthem realize they want more or something diffrent. This is especially prevalent in the last door they go throught to get to the California sea side town. They left the house they where in to find each other and be happier but they didn’t realize that they where already being pushes apart as migration and these major life decisions split their relationship in half.

Further this book comes full circle as they start as friends Nadia happy and independent, Saeed curious and happy with his family. Throughout the book as they enter the first 2 doors they learn about being a foreigner and the unrest that can come from the people who see you as freeloaders/invaders of their land. After they realize in London they are un happy they go through the door to California and there Saeed prays multiple times a day, as that is when he feels closest to his parents. As he tries to hold onto the reality he had, and the childhood he once had that has a mother and father. Likewise their realtionship soon turned to a friendship and the war or violence hadn’t come to the town. Their enviornment was someone safe and peaceful such as that of their home town before the fighting. As all the elements of this final town coencide with that of their hometown happiness, as the war had made them scared of loosing one another but in the peace they realized they wanted diffrent things. Nadia needed freedom and she went to live in the supply office at work, and Saeed moved on with another girl who brought out the version of himself that was hopeful and curious.

Throughout this story we see the want to come back to the happiness that came while they where in their hometown. Additionally that the war was the one who brought the couple together and bonded them, and that in freedom they had realized their ideas of freedom and life moving on was diffrent. Thus Tragedy creates a great divide while also bringing diffrent people and cultures together.

A Reflection of “Global Others”

The idea of certain groups of people being “others” seems like an outdated concept. In Exit West, every time Nadia and Saeed traveled to another place they entered feeling as outsiders. They would then often meet other migrants who’s feelings reflected their own. This communal awkward feeling is unnecessary and benefits no one. Even at the end of the novel, when the old woman was reflecting on her life that she had spent in one house she decided, “We are all migrants through time” (Hamid 209). A woman, who watched the block around her change throughout her life, knew that although the people who lived there were from other parts of the world, they were no different than her. As all people are technically “global others” to each other there is no need for this distinction as it only creates separation. While it is important that maintaining a distinction between groups of people is important for various reasons, the negative connotation that is associated with the word “other” creates a harmful hierarchical separation between those who are viewed as “native” versus “other”. All people, at one point or another will be considered as “others” and experience this outdated hierarchy. Although a distinction between people should be made, it should be based on feelings of pride and security, not fear or hate.

The Melting Pot

In Exit West, one of the common themes is borders and border security. This issue is still very relevant today. Borders are not real; they are a social construct that society accepts. In Hamid’s novel, there are so many migrants that the borders get more and more blurry throughout the novel. When Saeed and Nadia were in London you saw people get violent over their fear of the other as more migrants flooded in through the doors. In today’s America, the issue of border security is a very hot button issue. Some people are very concerned about illegal immigrants and border security which is seen in some of the natives in Exit West. The violence in London is something you could see happening today in the US. What we see in Exit West, though is something we need to remember, is everyone is a migrant. America is a country made up of migrants which is why when we talk about border security it almost seems funny since 90% of our country is made up of migrants or ancestors of migrants.

Why Accpeting Refugees is a Win for All

Refugees are an often disputed topic around the United States during a non-pandemic year. Whether to let them in or not. Hotly debated, many want to let refugees in, but just as many want to keep them out. However, despite what many refugee opposers believe, refugees are not a burden to the United States, but they are crucial to helping the country grow in many ways. Accepting, protecting, and empowering refugees is beneficial to the refugees and this country.

The United States allowing refugees in is a win for the refugees for apparent reasons. The earlier a state commits to protecting refugees, the earlier they can move forward with their lives without uncertainty blocking the way. Most importantly, accepting them into the country defends the most precious right of all, the right to live. Turning backs on the refugees in many cases could be fatal for them. Thus, accepting refugees and providing the most basic protection could be lifesaving.

Accepting refugees is also a win for the receiving country, such as the United States, and the communities that host them. By providing them with the right to work, health, and education, refugees can start productive lives in their host countries. The faster they can integrate into the labor force, the faster they can become productive members of society.
The origin countries also benefit from this cycle of migration. The nations of origin benefit from creating business networks between them and the countries where the refugees resettled. For countries overcoming conflict, the flow of new income and investment could be crucial for recovery. In addition to these business relationships, refugees can significantly transfer technologies and knowledge back to their home countries, which creates more competitive and diversified economies.

Lastly, much of the concern with refugees immigrating to a new country is job opportunities for citizens. However, that should not be a concern. Migration economists agree that more foreigners in the labor force do not hurt natives. Mostly because natives and foreigners typically have different skills and compete for other jobs. Foreigners are also more inclined to take the jobs native citizens do not want.

In the end, although there is opposition on whether or not to let refugees in, it should not be under debate. It is beneficial to all sides, and it can change someone’s life forever.

What Makes a Person A Native?

The novel Exit West by Mohsin Hamid expresses a dilemma; what makes someone a native to their country? One idea the story seems to convey is that every human is a migrant- we all move around through time. When Saeed and Nadia have arrived in Marin, California, it seems that there are no true natives left in the town. The text states, ” ..nativeness being a relative matter, and many others considered themselves native to this country..”(197). Being native to a country doesn’t seem to have a true meaning. Some would say they are native if they were born in the country they reside in, their ancestors grew up on the land, or their genes are directly descendant of the slaves that were brought to the land. Hamid seems to not have a true definition of what being a native means, because it means something different to everyone.

Hamid argues that we are all migrants, because the world is always changing, even if we stay in the same place our whole lives. On page 207, an old woman is introduced. She has lived in the same place her whole life, yet she feels the neighborhood has changed so much over time that she has moved as well. The text states, ” when she went out it seemed that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same house our whole lives, because we can’t help it” (209).

So the question is, if we are all migrants, is anyone a true native, and what makes a person a native?

A Migrant’s Journey

The protagonists of Exit West, allow readers to discover the journey that migrants have to face. Nadia and Saeed make the decision to leave their city to seek safety when a war breaks out. The novel states, “. . . for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” (98). Nadia and Saeed realize that they can never return to their home and their family once they leave.

Their first stop after leaving their home is Mykonos, Greece. Nadia and Saeed expect to find safety there because there is no war taking place in Mykonos. They both state, “. . . they decided that Mykonos was indeed a beautiful place, and they could understand why people might come here. Sometimes they saw rough-looking groups of men and Saeed and Nadia were careful to keep their distance. . .” (113). Although they have left their old war-stricken home, they realize that Mykonos doesn’t provide them the safety that they require. While they have left their home for protection, they still have yet to discover safety.

Then Nadia and Saeed leave for London and find a nice home. Although they rest comfortably in their new city, they discover that violence follows them. Nadia and Saeed claim, “. . . but many of the migrants in dark London had taken to carrying knives and other weapons, being as they were in a stage of siege, and liable to be attacked by government forces at any time. . .” (150). The characters once again discover violence increasing between migrants and natives. Their search to find safety starts again, as they leave for a new home.

After moving to 2 different cities for shelter, they only find sanctuary when they reach Marin, San Francisco. The novel writes, “But there was nonetheless a spirit of a least intermittent optimism that refused entirely to die in Marin, perhaps because Marin was less violent than most of the places its residents had fled. . .” (194). Nadia and Saeed have finally completed their migration journey after visiting 2 different countries. They have finally found a decent home in Marin despite its flaws. Marin, San Francisco provides them safety even though its not wealthy. Nadia and Saeed have finally escaped the violence after a long journey.

Migrants struggle to make the decision to leave their home and family all for the sake of safety and a brighter future. Many people do not acknowledge the long journey of migration and that it is not a journey of point A to B. Migrants like Nadia and Saeed have to move from one country to another just to find a decent home. The journey for migrants is long and exhausting and Exit Novel highlights the struggle migrants goes through.

Together as The “Others”

The novel Exit West by Mohsin Hamid highlights the unity that forms among migrants. Hamid emphasizes the fact that it is not each individual migrant against the world, it is all migrants against the world. They form a bond, which is created by having similar struggles and lives that they need to leave behind. As Nadia and Saeed leave his father behind as they travel, it is described as, “When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind” (98). This is not a common occurrence, it is something tragic that connects those who can relate to it. Migrants leave their home, their family, their entire past life and often can never return.

Due to this connection through trauma, it is shown throughout the novel that migrants stick together and fight for each other. One example of this is when the police showed up to the house Nadia and Saeed were staying at with other migrants. The police asked them to leave the house until “Other people gathered on the street, other dark- and medium- and even light-skinned people” (128). These people bonded together and made a racket until the police decided to withdraw. This is an important event that shows the power of people of all different backgrounds and skin colors coming together and standing up for each other. Another example is when they have to decide what to do as people become more hostile and scared of the large groups of migrants coming in. One option included “A banding together of migrants…cutting across divisions of race or language or nation, for what did those division matter now” (155). This perfectly emphasizes how migrants do not fight for themselves, they fight for each other. They are all “others” in their new locations and their previous distinctions are put aside. The quote continues and states, “The only divisions that mattered now were between those who sought the right of passage and those who would deny them passage” (155). The migrants recognize that to survive and be successful, they must work together. This unity is present in Exit West and in the real world when migrants stand together as one against the rest of the world.

The Relationship

In the novel, Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid focuses on the development and change of a relationship between Nadia and Saeed. In the beginning, when they first meet, Nadia and Saeed experience the typical honeymoon phase of their romantic relationship and one expects them to have a great long lasting relationship. But, their relationship is put to the test once they step through a black door.

Right after they completed their first big move and migrated to Mykonos, they experienced their first hiccup. Nadia attempted to kiss Saeed and he “turned his face away angrily” (107). This is just one of many incidents that start to tear Saeed and Nadia farther apart.

They again traveled through a door and found themselves in London. This move increased the tension between them:

… they slept on the slender single bed together without speaking, without touching, or without touching more than the cramped space demanded, for this one night not unlike a couple that was long and unhappily married, a couple that made out of opportunities for joy, misery.

(127)

Yet again, the hardships of migrating can bee seen as it affects Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. They slowly grow apart in this unfamiliar country as Nadia spent time with the Nigerians and Saeed spent time in another house with others from his country (151). Moving to a new area and being surrounded by different people brought out their differences. It showcased Saeed’s desire to reconnect with his culture and find others like him while Nadia’s desire is to leave behind their past and start anew.

However, there is hope in the salvation of their relationship as Mohsin Hamid ends chapter 9 with, yet, another migration, “… both of them were filled with hope, hope that they would be able to rekindle their relationship …” (189). Will Nadia and Saeed be able to salvage their relationship or will they grow apart?