Last Updated on June 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364
Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West centers on the themes of confinement and escape. The world of war is the world of boundaries, walls, and even intimacy. It is a world in which one cannot escape proximity to others and to violence. The main characters Nadia and Saeed escape, but even...
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Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West centers on the themes of confinement and escape. The world of war is the world of boundaries, walls, and even intimacy. It is a world in which one cannot escape proximity to others and to violence. The main characters Nadia and Saeed escape, but even escape represents its own mode of confinement. The modes of confinement entailed in poverty and oppression and war are distinctive. Notably, it is war that is associated with intimacy. Thus, Hamid remarks that "War in Saeed and Nadia's city revealed itself to be an intimate experience," with "combatants pressed close together."
Against the threat of the world of war, Hamid uses the symbol of the cell phone and the cigarette, as well as the motif of the door, to conjure up images of an "invisible world" of the senses that can be accessed even in the midst of a chaotic world rife with displacement and fear.
The cell phone symbolizes freedom and the capacity to connect with other human beings in Hamid's fictive world. For example, he remarks that "in their phones were antennas, and those antennas sniffed out an invisible world, a world that was all around them, and also nowhere." He situates the cell phone historically and symbolically, remarking that land lines used to be rare in the city to which Saeed and Nadia belonged. The people who installed the phones were like heroes. But cell phones, unlike landlines, don't have to be installed. They are like magic wands in a city that has been subjected to a spell of violence and distrust. The symbol of the cigarette represents sensory immersion in the world of Saeed's father. It is an olfactory and tactile means of gaining access to the past, as well as a way of imagining otherness. But for Saeed, cigarettes don't work as they did for his father. Ordinary objects are not enough to provide mental escape; for that, the magical portals of "doors" to other locations must come into play.
In terms of literary genre, Hamid uses the motif of doors as a trope of magical realism. Yet he maintains as well the use of ordinary objects as symbols.