Escape, an idea seen as necessary in even society today. Whether physical or mental, escaping reality is an activity performed by many on a daily occurrence. Because reality is something that is oftentimes very difficult to change, if even possible, many resort to virtual realities that become whatever they want it to. It is clear in the novel that the reality that Saeed and Nadia live in is far from ideal and many people throughout the city look for ways to escape it. The lack of freedom and the incredulous amount of violence surely warrants a reason for doing so. Three common forms of escape shown in the novel are recreational drugs, the internet, and physically escaping through the door portals. Although these efforts to escape their situation feel good in the moment, they ultimately do not solve any of their actual issues.
Drug use is an activity displayed by both characters early on in the novel. Neither Saeed nor Nadia are opposed to the idea of smoking a joint or doing shrooms and oftentimes do it with one another. These drugs do not stop the violence going on around them. They also do not grant them the freedom they once had. What it does accomplish though is giving them the feeling of happiness that they yearn for momentarily. When they first do shrooms together, Saeed becomes fascinated with something as simple as a lemon tree in a clay pot, “the lemon tree was reaching up, up, in a gesture so beautiful that Saeed was filled with love, and reminded of his parents, for whom he suddenly felt such gratitude, and a desire for peace” (Hamid 46). Peace is a key aspect that both Saeed and Nadia lack in their lives, and these drugs temporarily give Saeed this feeling, an escape from the lack thereof in reality.
The use of a cellphone to reach others virtually is common between Saeed and Nadia. While both use it, they both retain differences in opinion regarding the amount of its use. Saeed “found the antenna too powerful, the magic it summoned too mesmerizing, as though he were eating a banquet of limitless food, stuffing himself, stuffing himself, until he felt dazed and sick” (Hamid 40). He clearly recognizes the power the phone has, and the effects it can have upon a person who desires feelings their reality cannot feed them. Nadia on the other hand, does not feel that any limitation whatsoever is needed regarding cell phone use. She also recognizes the power the cell phone and internet hold and takes full advantage of it. Hamid claims that it “kept her company on long evenings” and she would watch random subjects such as “bombs falling, women exercising, men copulating, clouds gathering” through social media (41). Events such as watching a woman exercise or “waves tugging at the sand like the rasping licks of so many mortal, temporary, vanishing tongues” would otherwise be impossible to Nadia without technology (41). Because of the curfews Nadia and Saeed suffer and the constant violence in the streets, they often find themselves unable to meet with each other. Cell phones allow them to talk to each other while away and keeps them connected. A key component of their relationship with each other is the escape from reality that it provides for the two. They find themselves so preoccupied with the other that they momentarily forget about the anarchy surrounding them. Similar to the recreational drugs, this does not solve the citywide problem, but just gives them feelings of joy temporarily.
The clearest form of escape in the novel is utilizing the supernatural door portals. They literally allow people to escape from whatever country they are in to another one. The doors are assumed to bring whoever uses them to a place of better fortune. Once they go through the doors, they become migrants to wherever they go, and are treated as such. Is this theme not used to point out the flaw in society today? People are constantly migrating from their native countries attempting to escape their previous misfortune to arrive in America. What happens when these migrants come over is that they are portrayed incredibly negatively and are mistreated because they are not natively born as an American citizen. The Trump administration for example, “Cancelled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is currently providing work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to approximately 690,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children” (Pierce and Selee). This can be seen in the novel when the young couple take the first portal door to Mykonos, Greece and they are immediately greeted by a “pale-skinned man” as though “he was conversing in an international pidgin dialect of sign language” (Hamid 105). The author makes it clear that they are judged based off of their physical characteristics right off the bat, and are thrown into a group of migrants similar to them. Although Saeed and Nadia believed they were escaping the troubles they faced at home, they just enter a situation with different troubles.
The key aspect of escapes is that while they may help a situation temporarily, they rarely seem to solve the problem. Although they do not solve anything, they are arguably extremely necessary to those in need of such. People on the outside of these struggles see these escapes very negatively and attempt to get rid of them because they do not necessarily help them. America is a prime example in today’s world. Our president won his election taking a strong stance against immigration and continues to rally his supporters to view such immigrants as negatively as possible. Because many Americans do not realize the reasons for their need to escape, they ignorantly judge them and cast labels upon them. The author uses this novel as an attempt to gain empathy from his audience towards forced migrants. Technology and recreational drugs are common practices of escape not only used by Nadia and Saeed but in the real world as well. While actual people may not have access to magical portals to travel, they have other ways of transportation, and the message remains the same. These forms of escape are crucial to these people, and to those who do not understand their struggle, selfish. Escapes do not provide a complete solution, but rather a cry for help, that if not ignored, could lead to effectual change.
Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. Haryana, India: Penguin Random House, 2017.
Pierce, Sarah, and Andrew Selee. “Immigration under Trump: A Review of Policy Shifts in the
Year Since the Election.” Migrationpolicy.org. 22 Jan. 2018. 05 Mar. 2019