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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Throughout Exit West, the ways governments use tools of surveillance reflect the ruling style of that particular government. The militants maintain control by fostering fear of disobedience, and accordingly, surveillance takes the form of informants and random searches. In London, Nadia and Saeed find the drones particularly frightening, both because some of them drop bombs and because they’re robots. In this sense, the drones represent a government watching them and judging without any apparent humanity, highlighting the inhumane treatment of refugees in Dark London. In Marin, Nadia and Saeed experience a shift in their relationship to surveillance drones, even burying a broken one to give it a small funeral. Unlike the other places they’ve lived, Marin offers a degree of freedom to incoming refugees. Unlike the large, showy surveillance drones and patrols in their city and in London, the Marin drone is the size of a hummingbird, designed to be unobtrusive in their lives. This allows Saeed and Nadia to trust that Marin has their safety at heart, and therefore, they start to view the tools of that government as benign.
Characters often have strong feelings about or associations with religion in Exit West, and prayer accordingly means different things to different people. In some cases, religion causes strife and division. Nadia finds her family’s religion restrictive, and their adherence to it ultimately alienates her from them. Additionally, the militants in Saeed and Nadia’s country create civic strife in part over the existence of different sects of the same religion. However, religion also joins people together through culture and shared history. Saeed finds praying with the members of the neighboring house in Dark London soothing because of its familiarity and because it gives him a feeling of belonging. As the novel progresses, Saeed finds an even deeper importance in religion because it connects him to his family. By praying, Saeed feels connected again to his father, and religion allows him to travel back in time to his ancestors, affirming a closeness and beautiful nostalgia. Finally, religion allows people from different backgrounds to find connection, as Saeed ultimately finds love and joy in the Black preacher’s church even though it approaches religion from a slightly different angle than he grew up with. He relates to its spirit of endurance and charity, bridging the cultural gaps.
Throughout the novel, the electricity in a city or area goes out right before conflict begins. In the cases of Saeed and Nadia’s city and London, these power outages represent a ruling group taking metaphorical power away from a vulnerable group by demonstrating that they have the capability to control the electrical power. However, a lack of electrical power also shows a country metaphorically regressing in time. In Mykonos and London, the refugees live in a world of the past without electricity or modern conveniences, like cell phone reception, lights, and heat. Nadia wonders about the way electricity affects her own perception of time when Saeed shows her images a photographer created to depict what the night sky above famous cities would look like without electricity. She can’t decide whether the images look like the past, present, or the future. These images, in fact, foreshadow the sky in Nadia’s own city when militants extinguish the power, suggesting the potential for any city to become war torn in the future.