Home Definition In Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West
What is home? The word home itself has a different meaning for each individual. A meaning that is personal only to them, and may change over time, or become confusing and complicated. In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, each character is searching for their own sense of the word, just as we are in real life today. In this specific story, the idea of home and identity are explored through Nadia and Saeed’s journey. The changes, contention, and obstacles faced by the characters and by the fictional world of the novel are relatable to our current real-life crisis of the coronavirus pandemic in regards to our meaning and sense of home.
To begin with, in the novel, Saeed and Nadia, although both originating from the same country and city, have a different sense of home and identity while experiencing the crisis in their country. Similarly, their conflicted feelings of home resonate with us in quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview for Waterstones, the author states, “Home is always a conflicted partial feeling for me,” (Hamid). Hamid, who has traveled and lived in many different places, feels a sense of home in locations such as London and New York, although, he currently lives in the same place he grew up. Due to this, Hamid feels conflicted when asked the question; where are you from? Which alludes to the fact that where you are from is a key part of who you are, your identity. However, this is complicated, being that although individuals may share a home location-wise, they do not share a home emotionally. Nadia had a very different upbringing compared to Saeed, which shaped who they were and how they responded to the different events in the novel. In the novel, Hamid writes, “Nadia and her family both considered her thereafter to be without a family, something all of them, all four, for the rest of their lives, regretted, but which none of them would ever act to repair,” (22). This is in contrast to Saeed’s relationship with his parents, with whom he was very close. Thus, despite their locations, Nadia living alone and Saeed living with his parents, when they were constricted from normalcy, and contact, both characters felt loneliness, a loneliness that the whole country felt. Hamid writes, following the decline of working power lines in their city, which barred them from contacting each other while confined in their homes that, “Deprived of the portals to each other and to the world provided by their mobile phones, and confined to their apartments by the nighttime curfew, Nadia and Saeed, and countless others, felt marooned and alone and much more afraid,” (57). When you look at the big picture, each person in Saeed and Nadia’s city is experiencing and adapting to the change around them, just as we are doing the same in reality. Adapting to the circumstances by social distancing and wearing masks, while the characters in the novel adapted by setting curfews and covering their windows. All of us, although with different feelings and upbringings and opinions, are facing the same situations and trying to connect while being kept apart, and using our phones to do so. We are each feeling a sense of uneasiness, abnormalcy, in our homes.
Furthermore, Saeed and Nadia’s differing attitudes towards their sense of home and their identity during a time of crisis, parallel that of the attitudes of the current world. Saeed has a difficult time leaving his father as any son would, knowing that the probability of seeing him alive again was slim. In the novel, Hamid writes, “...but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind,” (98). Migration can mean many things when looked at in a broader sense. In Nadia and Saeed’s case, they, and many others, migrated physically from one place to another to escape the dangers of their country. In 2020, we have migrated from our normalcy to a new kind of life completely new and alien to us. Some, have adapted to this change nicely, but humanity amid a crisis either comes together or drifts apart, which is what we have been balancing this year as a human race. Just as some people are responding to the migration of the pandemic in different ways, Nadia and Saeed respond to their migration similarly to us but estranged from each other. Hamid writes, “Nadia had long been, and would afterwards continue to be, more comfortable with all varieties of movement in her life than was Saeed, in whom the impulse of nostalgia was stronger, perhaps because his childhood had been more idyllic, or perhaps because it was simply his temperament,” (94). Nadia, who is searching for her sense of home and her sense of community, while Saeed is clinging to any sliver of the life they had. In the Waterstones interview, Hamid said, “Because most people actually want to stay with their loved ones, they don’t want to go somewhere else,” (Hamid). Our sense of community has been challenged this year, just as the characters of Exit West struggled with a sense of community. For example, when the couple was in England, forced together with many different peoples, and living in a home that was primarily Nigerian, Nadia found community in them and made connections, despite their differences in language and culture. Saeed however, sought out people from his country, and upon finding them, jumped at the first opportunity to be amongst them and live with them, even if the living conditions were less desirable. In 2020, while forced apart, we are finding a new sense of belonging and community through online connection through Zoom and social media, however that longing for normalcy and life before the pandemic will be sought after until we find ourselves back to normal once again. However, that begs the question; what will our new normal be like? This pandemic has changed us as individuals and as a community, just as it changed the characters in the novel. In this sense, home is less about the location and more about being surrounded by the ones you love and by a general community.
Finally, our personal meanings of home not only are conflicted and challenged but changing over time. As the novel progresses, Saeed and Nadia migrate not only physically, but in their identity as well, just as we in 2020 have migrated from what was once our normal. Hamid also states in the Waterstones interview, “There is a migration that occurs with time,” (Hamid). In this age of epidemic, our views of home may have changed significantly due to what we have experienced. For some the pandemic has made their homes a safe space away from the unseen dangers that lurk outside, while for others, their homes may feel like a cage, keeping them from what they’re used to, from what is essentially their idea of safe. If you were you go back in time by one year, to December 4, 2019, the world you would be faced with would look completely different than the world we currently have. Only one year. A year that has defined us as a community and as individuals experiencing these years’ events together and alone. Just as our world has changed so rapidly, so did Saeed and Nadia’s. Hamid writes in the novel, “Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us,” (186). Not only were they physically migrating to different countries, but their original home changed drastically in the months that lead up to their departure, forcing them to migrate in the way that they and their lives changed, without physically moving countries. However, their home country was not the only thing that changed. Hamid writes, “So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place,” (186).
In conclusion, the journey we have taken this year, in 2020, has been rough, we now value the connections we have held onto that prevailed through this time and the homes we have come to embrace, or loathe. Even so, as Hamid writes, “We are all migrants through time,” (209). This year has made all of us migrants, in the way that we have changed, and in the way that the world has been changing rapidly around us.