Exit West, a story about the connection of a father and son, a young couples love, and the struggles that one will go through to be at peace. Those aspects previously mentioned sound like the outline to a perfect love story. This novel takes a turn in the opposite direction at the end, one in which the main characters Saeed and Nadia would have been going in separate directions even though the novel was solely focused on their relationship. To many, the ending may have come to an unfortunate surprise but to others, if payed close attention, may have seen it coming. By giving attention to detail the reader may have caught on to signs of symbolism and foreshadowing used by the author early in the novel in order to foresee what the results could have been. Symbolism will create a connection between the subject and the theme of the story. Nonetheless; foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story, or a chapter in which it will help the reader create expectations about events that may take place later in the story.
The story takes place in a time that can frankly be described as the calm before the storm. Saeed and Nadia are young adults. Both live very different lives, Saeed being very religious lives at home with his parents and Nadia, because of her strong will and beliefs, is a disowned daughter whom lives alone. Although they both have many more dissimilarities, they were both attracted to each other.
In a section of the novel there comes a point where Saeed and Nadia both do psychedelic mushrooms. Saeed then begins to talk about the lemon tree on Nadia’s terrace exclaiming that the lemon tree was rooted and connected to everything it touched including the earth itself. This scene was created by Saeed’s response to mushrooms but later he experiences something more, “Saeed was filled with love… he suddenly felt gratitude, and desire for peace, that peace should come to all, for everyone, for everything” (Hamid 46). He is filled with love and felt desire for peace, he can be talking about the moment he currently is in but during his emotional connection to the world, this scene creates a sense of what Saeed wants and feels inside of himself as it all originally came from the awareness of Nadia’s lemon tree. Later in the novel, Saeed and Nadia’s city begins to erupt with soldiers orchestrating shootings, withholding property from people as a war outbroke. During this process the city was going through dark times and unfortunately Saeed’s mother was killed in the process, subsequently, “Nadia’s lemon tree did not recover, despite repeated watering, and it sat lifeless on their balcony” (Hamid 93). Though the novel does not correlate these events directly, Nadia’s lemon tree was being used as a symbol for what both the city and Saeed/Nadia were going through.
In retrospect, the act of symbolism in the novel was being used through the lemon tree. This type of symbolism is much more popular through films, being that it is more obvious and clear. As a film professor mentions in an article, “a prop can represent a character, to the point where you can’t think about THAT object without thinking about THAT character. It can sum up their internal struggles or sum up their way of life or give you a glimpse into their personality” (Cash). From peaceful and joyful moments to struggling and lifeless events the city, and Saeed/Nadia were all tied in together as it correlated with the lemon tree for in comparison to a film the lemon tree was used as a prop.
While Symbolic use of the lemon tree was used as a representation of what current events took place a method used to determine what may or may not happen in future events was in the works throughout the novel known as foreshadowing. In the novel, Exit West, Hamid wrote an ending that some may have enjoyed, and most may have not. This ending came to a surprise to many, but it could have been expected early in the story. In the novel, readers interest was sought to believe that the two main characters, Saeed and Nadia, were going to through indifferences and struggles to ultimately escape somewhere where both characters would eventually ‘live happily ever after’.
Early in the novel Saeed and Nadia are expressing their goodbyes to Saeed’s father for he will not go with them on their departure. Throughout this dialogue, Saeed’s father speaks to Nadia privately letting her know that, “he was entrusting her with his son’s life, and she, whom he called daughter, must, like a daughter, not fail him… all he asked was that she remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger, and he asked her to promise this to him” (Hamid 97). This quote was said early on before the traveling Saeed and Nadia went through. Saeed’s Father may have had an idea on how dangerous their journey may be, but he was mainly concerned about Saeed’s safety. Foreshadowing in the novel leads into a world of wonder on what will be contemplated on what will or will not happen. “Foreshadowing gives allusions (possibly implicit) to some future events” (Bae B.C). Nevertheless, as soon as their lives began to be more settled and calm it happen to be that Saeed and Nadia’s relationship was on a decline resulting on their separation. Weather or not Nadia had her promise in mind one cannot deny the fact that the timing could have not been more perfect. Saeed was getting along with a preacher whom he grew very close with for his beliefs were hand in hand with Saeed’s. Adding in to the fact that the preacher’s daughter and Saeed’s friendship with her progressed to more than just a friendship.
Hamid did not need to bring the lemon tree into his story, but he did so in order to give more meaningful expression and connection to all aspects of his story. The unfortunate separation of Saeed and Nadia was devastating but a story where they both ‘live happily ever after’ is cliché. Nonetheless, Hamid gave hints in his story to make the ending slightly anticipated. When reading a novel, the instinct of a reader is to determine what the ending, that is why there is always a need to read one more page. Expectations are kept in mind and in the case of Hamid, his use of symbolism and foreshadowing makes it easier.
Bae BC., Young R.M. (2008) A Use of Flashback and Foreshadowing for Surprise Arousal in Narrative Using a Plan-Based Approach. In: Spierling U., Szilas N. (eds) Interactive Storytelling. ICIDS 2008. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 5334. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
Cash, Justin (2019). Symbolic Use of Props in Film. https://thedramateacher.com/symbolic-use-of-props-in-film/
Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. New York City: Pinguin Random House, 2017.
New Beginnings, https://newfamilybeginnings.com/