Exit West | Study Guide

Mohsin Hamid

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Exit West | Character Analysis



Saeed is a quiet, respectful, thoughtful, and loyal young man when he meets Nadia during an evening business course. He is enamored of her untamed spirit and enjoys her rebellious side, falling in love with her and asking her to marry him or, at least, to move in with Saeed's family. Saeed is deeply affected by his mother's death from a stray bullet and begins to look for a way out of his hometown through one of the black doors. After he secures passage, Saeed is shocked when his father refuses to leave his hometown but insists that Saeed go. Saeed continues to feel guilty for leaving his father for the rest of his life. In his journeys through the black doors, Saeed continues to try to protect Nadia and to build a life wherever they go. In the eastern Greek island of Mykonos, he tries to learn to fish and to secure them passage to Sweden through an old acquaintance. In London, Saeed is drawn to the company of people from his home country and finds solace in the practice of his religion, both of which begin to create a divide between him and Nadia. In Marin, California, Saeed continues to grow apart from Nadia and begins to fall in love with the preacher's daughter. In her, Saeed finds a connection to his home country, a loving family that reminds him of his own, and a devotion to religion and helping others that he admires and respects.


Nadia is a strong and independent young woman living a life that is unconventional for her environment. She lives on her own, having cut ties with her family to do so, and she has a career. She bows to convention when it is useful, wearing a black robe to pass as a conservative and claiming to be a widow in order to rent an apartment. Nadia meets Saeed in a business class and develops strong feelings for him, even ending her relationship with a musician in favor of Saeed, but she hesitates to commit entirely to him. She refuses his proposal of marriage and even resists moving in with his family when it would be safer to do so. Nadia consistently seeks new and better circumstances in her journeys through the black doors. She is relieved to be free of the societal restrictions that her country and its Muslim community had placed on her; in London, she resists Saeed's suggestion that they join a house filled with people from their country. Nadia finds herself drawn to women as her sexuality evolves over the course of her journeys, but she remains a loyal partner to Saeed until the moment they are both ready to part ways. In Marin, California, Nadia departs on her own path, beginning a love affair with the head cook at the food cooperative. Still, no matter how much Nadia changes or how much she throws off the conventions of her former country, she continues to wear her black robe.

Saeed's mother

Saeed's mother is a kind and loving woman who defines the character of her small family. She met Saeed's father at the cinema, cleverly finding a way to draw his attention without making the first move. They have a loving marriage in which she is the more demanding sexual partner. Saeed's mother was surprised by her pregnancy with Saeed, who arrived late in her life after she had given up on having children. In the interim, Saeed's mother had a career as a schoolteacher. She retains much of her youthful personality even as Saeed reaches adulthood, continuing, for example, to share jokes with sexual innuendos with Saeed's father during casual conversation. The violence in her city makes Saeed's mother nervous, and the regularity of her prayers noticeably increases, as does her worry for Saeed. Eventually, Saeed's mother is killed by a bullet that strikes her in the head as she is sitting in the family's car, searching for a misplaced earring.

Saeed's father

Saeed's father is a gentle and caring soul who tends to follow his wife's lead in many things. He met her at the cinema, and they have a loving marriage, in which he has been happy to respond to her stronger sexual desires. Saeed's father is a university professor who sometimes wonders whether he should have pursued a more lucrative career. Overall, however, Saeed's father is content with his life and his family, whom he loves deeply. Saeed's father was surprised by his wife's pregnancy with Saeed, who arrived late in their childbearing years. Saeed's father is nearly devastated by the death of his wife, and in his grief, he relies heavily on Saeed and Nadia as well as on his cousins and siblings. When Nadia moves in, he accepts her as she is and treats her like a daughter. Saeed's father finds solace in being close to places where his memory of his wife is strong, so he refuses to accompany Saeed and Nadia on their escape through the black door. Before they leave, Saeed's father asks Nadia to look after his son, saying that he hopes they will one day marry, but all that he would ask is that she stay with Saeed until he is safe. Saeed's father dies a few years later, still in his home country.

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