Exit West | Study Guide

Mohsin Hamid

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Course Hero, "Exit West Study Guide," December 20, 2019, accessed January 22, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Exit-West/.

Exit West | Symbols

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The Pale Woman and Dark Man

The first black door vignette appears in Chapter 1. Hamid describes a pale-skinned woman, alone in her house, who has forgotten to turn on the alarm system before going to sleep. The doorway to her closet is described as "the heart of darkness," from which a dark-skinned man strains to emerge, struggling as if "to free himself of hands clenched around his throat." The pale-skinned woman, at ease in her home full of the trappings of a middle-class existence in a Western society, represents the countries where peace, prosperity, and tolerance beckon immigrants from poor and war-torn regions around the globe. The paleness of her skin and white color of her sheets traditionally represent innocence, and the trope of fearing a dark-skinned man hiding in the closet is exploited to provoke the reader's immediate desire to protect the woman.

The dark-skinned man, however, is revealed to be struggling to free himself, and quietly, so that he does not disturb the woman. The dark-skinned man represents the waves of immigrants who struggle to reach a new land, wishing not to disrupt it, but to exist within it. The reader is drawn into a fear for the pale-skinned woman's/society's safety from the threat of the dark-skinned man/immigrants. Operating on societal prejudices about gender and race, the vignette articulates and implicates the reader in the systemic bias to protect established society from the potential threat of change and disruption posed by massive migration.

The Man in Tokyo and Filipino Immigrants

In the second black door vignette, a man in Tokyo sees two young Filipina girls emerge from a door in an alley. Hamid leads the reader to understand that the man is a Tokyo native who is drunk, arrogant, and in whom others immediately sense a "quality of violent potential." The two girls, whose Tagalog language identifies them as Filipina, are described through his distinctly male gaze, as he sees them just after they have emerged through a door. Although he does not understand the role of the doors in migration, he knows the girls are foreign and treats them as such, taking a territorial attitude toward them. The scene ends with the Tokyo man following the two girls while touching "metal" in his pocket, presumably, a knife.

The interaction between the Tokyo man and the Filipina girls represents the prejudice of a country's inhabitants against immigrants, a prejudice that can lead to anger and revenge- or hate-based crimes against immigrants. The threat of violence has been reversed from the first vignette—here, the immigrants are in danger of being harmed by people living in the new country—but societal notions about gender are likewise here exploited to articulate the issue and enlist the reader's fear, this time on behalf of protecting immigrants.

Black Door Vignettes

The vignettes, two of which are previously described, gradually change throughout the novel from raising fear about potential threats to sparking hope for a different kind of future. This change from fear to hope parallels the book's progression through the world's acceptance and even appreciation of the new, borderless world. The initial fear that global mobility inspires and the challenges it poses to established society are resolved, and society finds new paths forward. The threatening vignettes gradually give way to stories of resolution, hope, and love. The shifting character of the vignettes symbolizes the acceptance of the new world order: instant and unregulated global mobility.

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