Think of a time, when you were in a depressive mood that could not be shaken off or the feeling would not go away because it was out of your control. Would you seek outside sources to try to control your life, in order to find some level of happiness? In his novel, “Exit West” Mohsin Hamid examines the ways in which two individuals, Saeed and Nadia, are trying to escape a war torn home to gain happiness. In the beginning, Nadia and Saeed are introduced to each other through an educational class and further their relationship by getting to know each other personally and sexually. Nadia and Saeed both live in an un-named Muslim country that is on the verge of civil war. Later, the city goes into war and the Militants begin to take over the city by killing government officials and innocent bystanders. Unfortunately, this leads to Saeed and Nadia encountering horrific events leading them to escape the town physically and mentally escaping through the use of drugs and sex. By examining the text, we can see how the horrific events an individual goes through can cause a need for happiness, in which leads to controlled behaviors to escape reality. 

What is Nadia and Saeed going through in this unknown Muslim country?

Nadia and Saeed live in a town full of refugees, the town seems to be mostly at peace…in the beginning. However, the town takes a turn for the worst when the Militants take over and begin to cause horrific events in the town. The city was becoming so dangerous that innocent bystanders were being killed by the Militants. For example, Saeed’s mother was killed by a, “stray heavy-caliber round passing through the windshield of her family’s car,” (Hamid 74). Not only was Saeed’s mother not doing anything wrong; she was simply checking for a misplaced earring, and because of the Militants, the result was death. The very little happiness Saeed had, came from family and Nadia, yet one of those is taken away due to the ruthlessness of the Militants. Furthermore, the town becomes more dangerous, in that Nadia is called a “whore” for riding a motorcycle because that does not match the city’s religion or social rules (Hamid 42). Town executions are starting to occur more frequently. The Militants are in high power “taking over and holding territory throughout the city” and in order to prove they are in control; the militants do random search inspections that require showing an ID to verify that the people in the home are not the “denomination being hunted” (Hamid 85 and 86). Once again, the militants exercise their control through an unreasonable attack on Saeed’s upstairs neighbors by cutting the man’s throat and taking the wife and daughter into hostage. Therefore, Saeed and Nadia no longer want to be a part of this dangerous, depressed lifestyle and find a way to leave the town before they die too. 

How desperate are Nadia and Saeed to gain happiness? 

Naturally, when a person is in a situation that brings them harm or sadness, that person will flee the scene or find events to distract themselves from reality. After the many dangerous and saddening events that took place in Nadia and Saeed’s hometown, they fled to a new location, London Halo, where they are now camp workers. Even though the two individuals left a dangerous situation for safety reasons, they both struggle to distract themselves from the traumatizing past. When an individual is put through a situation that the mind does not know how to cope with, that person will try to find a controlled behavior to put their life back into their own hands. For example, Nadia was sexually assaulted at the bank and in order to suppress this horrific situation, she tries to find a controlled behavior to distract herself from the terrible situation. As a result, Nadia attempts to get Saeed to have sex with her, not for fun, but “because she wanted to cauterize the incident from outside the bank in her memory” therefore, trying to escape from her traumatizing reality (Hamid 65). In the same way, Saeed gets the news that his dad has died from pneumonia and in order to suppress this reality, he begins to work heavily and commit himself to work because he “did not know how to mourn” (Hamid 172). Furthermore, Mushin Hamid explicitly applies the use of recreational drugs to exemplify the struggle to find happiness in a traumatic situation. So, these characters, Saeed and Nadia, try to escape reality by getting high. For example, Nadia and Saeed are not expressing any happiness for several chapters; however, once they begin to smoke week, it is the first appearance in a long time that the two “started to laugh, and Nadia laughed until she cried” (Hamid 197). Therein, Hamid is addressing to the audience that the two only found happiness in a controlled behavior such as, drugs, in which is the first time the reader sees the two characters happy and forgetting the past. Altogether, the two experience traumatic events that cause them to search for happiness through controlled behaviors: sex and drugs. 

Beyond the novel, how far are individuals going to suppress the past and gain happiness?

Any individual that is depressed, essentially feels like they are not in control of their life. That person will seek out controlled behaviors such as, alcohol, drugs, sex, or eating disorders to be in control of some part of their life. In the novel, Health, Wellness, and Optimal Aging, Aldwin and Gilmer found the use of alcohol to cover up depression was bidirectional. Aldwin and Gilmer believe that “individuals may use alcohol to combat depressive symptoms, but alcohol itself depresses the central nervous system function and can lead to depression” (Aldwin and Gilmer 220). Although, Aldwin and Gilmer use alcohol for a controlled behavior, this is relatable to Nadia and Saeed because they seek out recreational drugs to be happy and to suppress their problems, in the same way a depressed individual may use alcohol or other controlled behaviors to get rid of their problems as well. Hamid is shedding light on a real-life problem for people that cannot cope with traumatic events. For example, Saeed and Nadia’s inability to cope with trauma can relate to a woman named Sandra that was part of a controlled behavior study. In the same way that Saeed and Nadia had feelings of depression and hopelessness, Sandra did too. In the novel by Williams and Kraft, it was found that Sandra, “spend the rest of her weekend smoking pot… to block out some of the thoughts and feelings that are so distressing to her” (Williams and Kraft 48). Therefore, Hamid is bringing awareness that people that are struggling to cope with stressors or trauma and are seeking out help through controlled behaviors like drugs and sex, in which is occurring in real life and not only a novel. 

In conclusion, Moshin Hamid addresses that Nadia and Saeed are desperate to escape reality. Therefore, the two physically remove themselves from the hazardous, deathly town, but mentally cannot erase the past. Therein, the two use drugs and sex to combat this depression because of events like sexual assault, irrational death, and danger. 

Works Cited

Aldwin, Carolyn M., and Diane Fox Gilmer. Health, Illness, and Optimal Aging, Second Edition : Biological and Psychosocial Perspectives. Vol. 2nd ed, Springer Publishing Company, 2013. EBSCOhost,

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West : A Novel. Riverhead Books, 2017. EBSCOhost,

Williams, Rebecca E., and Julie S. Kraft. The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction : A Guide to Coping with the Grief, Stress and Anger That Trigger Addictive Behaviors. New Harbinger Publications, 2012. EBSCOhost,

Works Cited For Images