At its core, Exit West is a novel that explores the psychological and emotional toll that migration has on those who leave their homes behind in search of a new life. Hamid highlights the struggle of losing a sense of stability and belonging, the complexities of navigating the unknown, and the way people change when faced with a new environment. This process of migration, however, becomes even more difficult to navigate as the emergence of magic doors essentially dissolves international borders. By including this magical element, Hamid is able to challenge modern assumptions about what it means to be a migrant and imagine a world with greater freedom of movement. The open borders that the doors offer are full of possibility but also pose a threat to the idea of nationalism, a tension which leads to questions about belonging and identity. All of these broader concepts manifest themselves within Saeed and Nadia’s relationship, and their journey throughout the novel ultimately becomes a metaphor for the greater relationship that a migrant has to the familiar world they leave behind. Saeed and Nadia initially serve as a source of comfort for each other, especially when violence forces them to flee their home country. They try to maintain their relationship as it is the only piece of their old lives they could bring with them, but as they adapt to new surroundings, they become incompatible. What was once familiar can no longer offer them the sense of belonging that Saeed and Nadia each search for. This search for belonging in the midst of uncertainty ultimately serves as the novel’s central conflict.  

Early in the novel, Hamid establishes the strength of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship in spite of the chaos descending on their home country, and this dynamic reflects the emotional pull of familiar people and places. The beginning of the romance between Saeed and Nadia serves as the novel’s inciting incident, and although they are strangers as the novel opens, the quickness with which they fall for each other emphasizes just how much comfort they receive from each other’s presence. Saeed can hardly think of anything else besides Nadia after meeting her for the first time in Chapter One, and by Chapter Three, they are communicating with and visiting each other often despite the risks that come with it. In the context of their home country, Saeed and Nadia’s differences in personality allow them to complement each other well. The compatibility of their relationship is first put to the test when Nadia moves in with Saeed and his father in the wake of his mother’s death, a moment which marks the beginning of the novel’s rising action. By moving in, Nadia becomes increasingly integrated into Saeed’s family and begins to represent the comforts of home as a result. She also begins to view Saeed’s family as her own, referring to his father as “father” and promising him to keep his son safe

The novel’s rising action continues as violence forces Saeed and Nadia to flee their home country through a magic door, and this shift in their situation amplifies their individual pursuits of belonging. The couple first arrives in Mykonos, Greece, and while their arrival distances them from the dangers of their home country, they still face uncertainty and must grapple with their new sense of displacement. Saeed struggles to cope with this loss almost immediately as Nadia notices hints of “bitterness” in his behavior, a sign that foreshadows the changes he will ultimately undergo as a refugee. Sensing that Mykonos will not be a safe place for them much longer, Saeed and Nadia travel through another door which brings them to a mansion full of other migrants in London, England. This move tests their relationship yet again as the organizing principles that once defined their world, such as differences in nationality, culture, and language, begin falling apart. By this point in the novel, the freedom of movement that the magic doors allow has caused migrants to fan out across the globe, and this phenomenon makes it even more difficult for Saeed and Nadia to achieve a sense of belonging. Nativist groups in London aim to remove the migrants, and Saeed in particular struggles with the idea of being surrounded by people who do not share the same customs as he does. He leans in to his family’s traditions in order to find stability, praying more every day, as Nadia actively tries to integrate herself into her new environment. These two strategies put Saeed and Nadia at odds, driving them even further apart. 

Despite the opportunities that arise for them in London, Saeed and Nadia choose to leave as they sense that their relationship, their last tangible connection to home, is falling apart. The couple’s arrival in Marin, California, marks the climax of the novel because it leads to the formal end of their relationship. They acknowledge that their relationship has changed since they fled home, and they eventually allow themselves to pursue new lives without being beholden to the people they used to be. In the end, the trajectory of their relationship reflects the emotional processing and development that occurs as a result of migration more broadly. Arriving in a new place requires individuals to adapt in order to regain a sense of belonging. The novel’s falling action features Saeed and Nadia reuniting in their home country years after they separated. By concluding the novel in the same place that it began, Hamid creates a cyclical structure that invites both characters to reconcile with their past.