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Last Updated on July 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

Nadia and Saeed

The two main characters (otherwise known as the protagonists of Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West) are a young woman named Nadia and a young man named Saeed . They first meet in a class on "corporate identity and product branding" in a fictional city that is...

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Nadia and Saeed

The two main characters (otherwise known as the protagonists of Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West) are a young woman named Nadia and a young man named Saeed. They first meet in a class on "corporate identity and product branding" in a fictional city that is "swollen with refugees" and is on the brink of war. In this unsettled environment, in which national boundaries have been destabilized, and personal identities are being threatened, the global language of marketing serves as the only remaining means of bringing young people together. In Hamid's account, the implicit reduction of educational opportunity to training in corporate propaganda reflects the massive strain of violence on civil society and local modes of pedagogy and belonging.

Nadia wears a full hijab (Islamic veil and robe). Saeed only wears a bit of a beard. Thus, in terms of appearance, the reader initially gains the impression that Nadia is religiously observant and that Saeed is more secular. Yet this impression is incorrect. The novel stresses that Nadia does not pray and that she wears hijab in order to avoid men from preying upon her. Nadia chooses not to live at home, while Saeed lives at home. Nadia rides a motorcycle (a classic literary trope for rebelliousness), while Saeed is more conservative. Like Nadia, he does not attend evening prayers.

He brings to their relationship a sense of humor, while she brings a sense of independence. Nadia and Saeed share a desire to travel (perhaps to Cuba) and, more importantly, a desire to be someplace other than where they are. The limitations of their current surroundings make it difficult to spend time together because of restrictions on interactions between men and women. Yet Nadia and Saeed are inventive enough to persist in the face of resistance.

The two equal protagonists are searching for a way out, but the way out that they end up finding turns out to be a magical portal to another place. Once they go through the door, they become refugees. Whereas in the beginning of the book, they were natives in a city that was full of refugees, they now become "the Other." There is no more language of "corporate identity and product branding" to distinguish the refugees from everyone else. Now they must live by their wits and by bribes, not credentials.

The main characters of Nadia and Saeed are constructed in contrast to the secondary characters of their parents, who represent traditional ways and a willingness to sacrifice for their children. Nadia and Saeed are distinctively contemporary figures with their complexity, marginality, and exposure to risk.

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