The novel Exit West written by Mohsin Hamid grabs the reader’s attention by having the main character, Nadia and Saeed, searching for safety despite constant threats from people who want to enforce borders, such as the radical militants in their city. Mysteriously their world experiences a phenomenal of door opening that transport anyone who walks through them to other parts of the world. In this way, the doors represent a breach in the wall that was set by governments to restrict movement across the war-torn country of Nadia and Saeed. Unfortunately, though, using these doors leads to new kinds of divisions among those who enter, seeking refuge to connect to similar characteristics such as appearance, language or religion. By highlighting the prevalence of nativism and xenophobia, Hamid encourages readers to recognize humanity’s unsettling tendency to divide itself according to prejudice, hate, and, above all fear.
In response to the sudden influx of refugees arriving through doors in London, England’s government tries to reject newcomers by rallying law enforcement and residents alike to help deport or scare away migrants. When referring to the violent protestors who want to push refugees out of London, Hamid uses the term “nativist,” a word that refers to those who believe that the interests of a country’s native-born people must be protected against immigrants. That the nativists feel their interest must be protected against refugees suggests that they fear that newcomers will diminish something about their lifestyle. In a conversation about the angry nativists rallying outside their living quarters, Nadia suggests that “the natives were so frightened that they could do anything,” which can be interpreted as these nativists will rest upon acts of violence to ensure their own safety above all. Nadia sees that the hatred which these Londoners are directing at her and her fellow refugees is primarily rooted in insecurity and fear. “I can understand it,” Nadia continues. “Imagine if you lived here. And millions of people from all over the world suddenly arrived.” When Saeed points out that millions of people did arrive in their country before they fled. Nadia remarks, “That was different. Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose.” The reader can draw a parallel on how a country with more resources will feel threatened when “invaders” who try to diminish their resources compared to a country whose resources are scarce but will not reject those who fled into their country. Regardless Nadia and Saeed find themselves being pulled in many directions and fear draws in which the body responses to seek out comfort and acceptance.
The migrant community drives itself up according to national or cultural affiliations. Nadia is apparently comfortable joining groups of migrants who don’t hail from her country, however compared to Saeed who strongly feels the impulse to find a group of fellow countrymen. “Here in this house he was the only man from his country, and those sizing him up were from another country, and there were far more of them, and he was alone. This touched upon something basic, something tribal, and evoked tension and a sort of suppressed fear,” Hamid writes. This fear, which comes from being isolated and singled out as different, leads Saeed to join a group of his fellow countrymen, an act that makes him “feel part of something, not just something spiritual, but something human, part of this group.” Hamid seems to be underlining the fact that nativists aren’t the only ones who divide people into groups. Indeed, even migrants like Saeed, who ultimately want to integrate into an undivided community, find themselves gravitating toward others based on their culture or nationality.
Unlike Saeed, who feels uncomfortable in the mansion of refugees because he can’t relate to migrants from other countries, Nadia easily settles in with the neighbors in the household. This is evident in the fact that she starts attending council meetings held by the mansion’s Nigerian community. In the novel, Nadia is easily discounted as “obvious non-Nigerian” in attendance. When she first appears at one of these gatherings, the group of Africans “seem surprised to see her” and regards her quietly. Before long an elderly woman whom Nadia had helped her climb the stairs and in turn she stands by her side to which the group accepts her presence. Nadia willingly puts herself in this position, and although doing so is perhaps uncomfortable at first, she ultimately gains an entirely new community of friends and supporters.
Throughout Exit West, Hamid shows that fear is the strongest generator of social division that encourages both nativists and refugees to establish boundaries. Without fully acknowledging that many individuals do these characteristics instinctively to set up borders and seek shelter among similar communities. In the end, Hamid suggests that it is Nadia’s example that readers should follow since she is capable of not only of embracing new and diverse communities but also of understanding that it is fear that motivates people to erect social boundaries. By this concept, Nadia can progress beyond hiding behind walls and openly accept the people around her.