Exit West

by

Mohsin Hamid

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Exit West can help.

Exit West: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
With the lights out in Saeed and Nadia’s portion of the city, “murders and rapes and assaults” take place. Although some blame the “nativist provocateurs,” others blame the migrants. In this shifting climate, a group of elder Nigerians in Saeed and Nadia’s mansion form a council that meets in the courtyard. Nadia is the only person in attendance who is visibly non-Nigerian. Some are surprised to see her and don’t know whether or not to accept her into the group, but then an older woman—whom Nadia often helps climb the stairs—invites her to stand with her, thereby putting everybody at ease and welcoming Nadia into the council.
Once again, Nadia demonstrates her eagerness to embrace multicultural unity, finding a meaningful connection in this assembly. As London slowly descends into “murders and rapes and assaults” and people from all sides try to blame other groups for such violence, the idea of plurality and cross-cultural unity is especially important, something Nadia seems to grasp when she installs herself in the group of Nigerians.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
At first, Nadia has trouble following what takes place during the council meetings, but eventually she’s able to track the conversations because most people speak some form of English. She learns that not everybody in the courtyard is actually Nigerian, but rather from “places that border Nigeria,” meaning that each person speaks a slightly different kind of English. “Together in this group they conversed in a language that was built in large part from English,” Hamid notes, “but not solely from English, and some of them were in any case more familiar with English than were others. Also, they spoke different variations of English, different Englishes, and so when Nadia gave voice to an idea or opinion among them, she did not need to fear that her views could not be comprehended, for her English was like theirs, one among many.”
Hamid quickly establishes that the council does indeed signify multicultural unity and connection, as even its linguistic backbone brings together “different Englishes” to make a composite whole, an amalgamation of language and meaning with which people from all over the world can engage. This stands in stark contrast to the divided nature of the Mykonos refugee camp, where groups only formed according to nationality. Here, it seems, Nadia has a chance to branch out and truly become involved in the refugee community.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Nadia begins to look forward to council meetings because they represent “something new in her mind, the birth of something new.” These people, she discovers, are both “familiar and unfamiliar,” and their acceptance of her feels like an “achievement” of sorts. She even gains respect among the younger Nigerians because of her involvement with the elders. The only person who doesn’t spare her is a young Nigerian woman “with a leather jacket and a chipped tooth” who stands like a “gunslinger” and verbally harasses everybody in the house.
The council represents “the birth of something new” in Nadia’s life because she has never before experienced a unification of different cultures and nationalities. After all, she comes from a country that was divided between the government and a group of radical militants, a place where everybody had to profess loyalty to whichever faction was in power. But here (or in the mansion, at least), Nadia can exist as an individual in a diverse group, thus allowing her to be whomever she wants.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Unlike Nadia, Saeed is uncomfortable in the mansion, disliking the fact that he’s the sole male representative of his country. “Those sizing him up were from another country,” Hamid writes, “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.” Feeling this way, Saeed doesn’t know when he can “relax” or if he even can relax.
For Saeed, isolation from his culture isn’t liberating, like it is for Nadia. Rather, he suffers from the uncertainty that comes along with entering a foreign environment. Not knowing when he can “relax,” he is constantly on his guard, a reality exacerbated by the fact that people are always “sizing him up” because he’s the only man from his country. In this moment, Saeed ascribes to a stereotypically macho notion of manhood, believing that he must—as a man—represent his culture in some strong or powerful fashion. Nadia, on the other hand, doesn’t pay attention to such hang-ups, thereby allowing herself to actually enjoy the refugee community’s multicultural unity.
Themes
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Get the entire Exit West LitChart as a printable PDF.
Exit West PDF
One evening, while Nadia is in the courtyard with the council, Saeed is stopped in the hallway by the woman in the leather jacket, her foot planted on the wall, barring him from passing. “Excuse me,” he says, to which she replies, “Why should I excuse you?” She also utters something else, but he can’t understand what she says. Behind him, he notices a “tough-looking Nigerian man,” a man he’s heard has a gun. Just as Saeed starts to truly fret, the woman in the leather jacket takes her foot from the wall and allows him to pass, though in order to do so he must brush against her body—a movement that makes him feel “emasculated.” Once in the bedroom, he wants to “shout” and “huddle in a corner,” though he doesn’t do either of these things.
While Saeed’s notions regarding masculinity and the way it affects his integration into the refugee community are perhaps antiquated and partly imagined, in this moment they manifest themselves as true. When the woman in the leather jacket challenges him, it’s clear that he actually does have to face certain adversities within the migrant population, a deeply unfortunate fact, considering that the entire community has plenty of enemies already and thus should refrain from treating one another poorly.
Themes
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Saeed discovers that a neighboring mansion is full of people from his country, so he begins visiting the house on a regular basis, finding comfort in hearing “familiar languages and accents and the familiar smell of the cooking.” One afternoon he prays with a group of older men in the courtyard of this mansion and feels that prayer is “different here, somehow.” It makes him feel like he’s “part of something, not just spiritual, but something human, part of this group.” For a painful moment, he thinks of his father, but a bearded man next to him distracts him by putting his arm around him and saying, “Brother would you like some tea?” As such, Saeed feels “accepted by this house” and asks the bearded man if he and Nadia can come live with them. The bearded man says yes, though they’ll have to stay in separate rooms.
Because Saeed feels so isolated and even endangered in the house of Nigerians, it’s rather unsurprising that he’s so excited to find this group of fellow countrymen. Not only are these people “familiar” to him, but their religious practices align with his own growing interest in prayer, which seems to connect him to his past life. As such, these people become important figures in his new London life, helping him regain what he feels he has lost in the process of escaping his country.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
That night, Saeed tells Nadia what the bearded man said, framing it as “good news.” Nadia, though, is perplexed. “Why would we want to move?” she asks. “To be among our own kind,” says Saeed. When Nadia asks why these men are their own “kind,” Saeed points out that they’re all from the same country. “From the country we used to be from,” Nadia says, reminding Saeed that they “left that place.” “That doesn’t mean we have no connection,” Saeed protests. “They’re not like me,” Nadia asserts, and proceeds to convince Saeed that it would be foolish to give up their own bedroom to go live in communal spaces with their countrymen. Later, Saeed realizes it’s “odd that he would want to give up their bedroom for a pair of separated spaces, with a barrier between them, as when they lived in his parent’s home.” 
In this moment, Nadia suggests that having the same nationality doesn’t necessarily make two people alike. In fact, it doesn’t even tie them to one another. Of course, it makes sense that she would believe this, since she herself never seemed to connect very much to her and Saeed’s home culture. Instead, she feels at home with people from other countries, as long as they’re willing to accept newcomers. For her, then, unity is about the present, not the past. For Saeed, on the other hand, unity is about shared memories, cultural practices, and common backgrounds. 
Themes
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Still awaiting the nativist attack, the council discusses whether or not refugees should fight back when the confrontation takes place. The group decides to handle the situation nonviolently, but Nadia remains unsure if this is the best idea, suspicious about surrendering completely. Saeed feels similarly, though he listens to the bearded man deliver a much different message to his countrymen. Indeed, the bearded man advocates “a banding together of migrants along religious principles, cutting across divisions of race or language or nation, for what [do] those divisions matter now in a world full of doors.” He upholds that religious men have a duty to protect the people who seek “passage” through the doors, no matter what. This message resonates with Saeed, but it also vaguely reminds him of the kinds of things the militants in his country used to say, and this makes him feel like he’s “rotting from within.”
The bearded man’s argument that refugees should come together regardless of “divisions of race or language or nation” aligns with Nadia’s worldview, which champions diverse communities. However, the bearded man’s support of such communities has little to do with actual diversity, as it actually depends upon the “religious principles” that he thinks should guide people. In other words, he believes everybody should connect with one another based on their shared religious beliefs. As such, his outlook essentially advocates for homogeneity, not diversity, which is why Saeed senses in his words the same kind of idealism displayed by the radical militants who forced him and Nadia into fleeing their country in the first place.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
The bearded man gives Saeed a pistol from the house, which is full of guns. “In his heart he would not have been able to say if he took the pistol because it would make him safer from the nativists or from the Nigerians, his own neighbors,” Hamid notes. Undressing that night, Saeed doesn’t conceal the pistol from Nadia, who sees it and says nothing. When he gets into bed, they reach for each other while also moving “slightly away,” and in “their coupling” they sense a “mutual violence,” a “kind of shocked, almost painful surprise” at one another. Afterward, as he’s trying to fall asleep, Saeed realizes he doesn’t even know how to use a pistol and resolves to give it back the following day. 
The presence of the pistol in Saeed and Nadia’s bedroom essentially alters their relationship for a moment, imbuing their physical intimacy with a kind of “mutual violence.” This strange dynamic is clearly the result of Nadia’s surprise that Saeed has obtained a weapon, and so she momentarily sees him as somebody else. For an instant, she’s attracted to him because he doesn’t resemble himself—a foreboding notion, since sexual attraction should ideally come from an appreciation of one’s partner, not an appreciation of his sudden unrecognizability.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Certain migrants find ways to siphon energy to charge phones, enabling Saeed and Nadia to read the news. For Nadia, this is an unsettling experience because there’s so much talk in the media about migration and nativism. “The fury of those nativists advocating wholesale slaughter was what struck Nadia most,” Hamid writes, “and it struck her because it seemed so familiar, so much like the fury of the militants in her own city.” Because of this, she wonders if she and Saeed have even accomplished anything by moving. When she feels like this, though, she looks around and sees the many different kinds of people surrounding her, all the different races and cultures congregating in one place, and she realizes that she was “stifled in the place of her birth for virtually her entire life” and that “a new time” is here, one she welcomes with an open mind.
Once again, Nadia shows her capacity to optimistically usher in change, readily embracing and even celebrating the multicultural diversity surrounding her in the migrant community. Of course, she finds it difficult to have gone through so much trouble to escape just to ultimately feel as if she hasn’t even accomplished anything by migrating. However, she takes comfort in the idea that “a new time” is upon her because she recognizes that she can now experience a cultural unity she never would have had access to in her own country. As such, she once more demonstrates her ability to enthusiastically integrate into new communities and cultures.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As Saeed and Nadia wait fretfully for the nativist attack, a woman emerges through a door in a cantina in Tijuana. Once she’s completely through the portal, she walks up a hill to a small orphanage called the House of the Children, where she locates her daughter, who is now nearly a grown woman and who only recognizes her because she has “seen her on electronic displays, on the screens of phones and computers.” The next day, the mother and daughter bid goodbye to the others in the orphanage and hike back down the hill, where together they enter the cantina and pass through the door.
In this vignette, Hamid shows readers once again that the doors aren’t only used to escape unfortunate circumstances. Indeed, they also have the ability to reunite loved ones. Although this woman’s daughter most likely had to live in this orphanage because of some disaster or danger that separated her family, now the doors have reconnected her and her mother.
Themes
Love and Connection Theme Icon
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Escape Theme Icon
When the raid on the “migrant ghetto in which Saeed and Nadia [find] themselves” begins, an officer is immediately shot in the leg, exacerbating tensions so that the authorities begin firing their weapons. Outside when the fighting begins, Saeed rushes to the door, which Nadia quickly opens and pulls him through. They then retreat to their room, push the mattress against the window, and wait. They hear gunshots and helicopters overhead and see, when they peek through the gap between the mattress and the window, “thousands of leaflets dropping from the sky.” Later, they smell smoke, but the noises eventually subside.  Finally, they hear that at least two hundred migrants have been burned alive in a cinema that the authorities torched. They also hear about other places where large numbers of migrants have been killed, but there is—at least—no more shooting that night.
The police’s bloody rampage is clearly made worse by the fact that somebody shoots an officer in the leg at the outset of the conflict. This ultimately confirms Hamid’s notion that fear is the primary catalyst for violence and xenophobia. After all, it’s possible that the officers wouldn’t have carried out the raid so violently if they hadn’t been made to fear for their own lives. In this way, Hamid reminds readers that terror and panic lurk behind the hate and vitriol dividing people from one another.
Themes
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Time passes after the attack, and the nativists don’t continue their violence. “Perhaps they had decided they did not have it in them to do what would have needed to be done,” Hamid suggests. It’s possible, he notes, that the nativists have come to understand that the doors can’t be sealed, that their efforts are futile. “And so,” he writes, “irrespective of the reason, decency on this occasion won out, and bravery, for courage is demanded not to attack when afraid.” Electricity and water is restored to all areas of London, and Saeed and Nadia—along with their housemates and neighbors—celebrate this good fortune.
Though it’s unfortunate “decency” only comes after the police have killed so many migrants in such a cruel and grotesque fashion, Saeed and Nadia find themselves finally able to relax in the aftermath of the attack. What’s more, Hamid praises the people of London for refraining from instigating further violence, calling them “brave” because it takes “courage” “not to attack when afraid.” Once again, then, he emphasizes the fact that fear, violence, and xenophobia are directly related to one another.
Themes
Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
Related Quotes