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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The magic doors that allow passage to new places represent a breaking down of borders and the freedom, hope, and fear that comes with that. For those fleeing impoverished and war-torn countries, the doors represent the hope of a new life. Additionally, as in the case of the British accountant in Chapter 7, even for people from stable countries, the doors represent the possibility of escape from lives that otherwise seem unlivable. Because of the ease of travel they offer, these doors represent the dissolution of the borders that keep people in and out of nation states and therefore bring into question what makes a nation at all. Therefore, the nationalists in Britain and Vienna view the doors as threats because they challenge their worldview of themselves as belonging to stable, easily-defined nations. The militants in Nadia and Saeed’s country attempt to control the doors for their own ends for similar reasons in an attempt to define who is pure enough to enter their country. For these people, borders mean security and the exclusive ability to define what it means to be from their nation state.
Cell phones represent connection. The loss of cell service and Wi-Fi throws Nadia and Saeed into turmoil because they cannot access each other, as they became so used to doing. When they pass through the door into Mykonos, the first thing they do is procure local numbers so that they can reach out to people they know and also catch up on the news of the world. This connection differs from the connection the doors provide, however, because the connection cell phones offer only exists in images and words, not experience. Therefore, while the magical doors allow passage to other people and places, cell phones merely act as windows, providing glimpses into other lives and cultures. Early on in their courtship, Saeed and Nadia feel as if they know each other better than they actually do because of the amount of time they spend sending each other messages and photographs. Then, at the end of the novel, Saeed and Nadia have a hard time looking at each other’s social media accounts because doing so gives them a glimpse of the reality that the other person has built a world of their own.
While Nadia’s black robe initially represents safety to her, it comes to represent the alienation Saeed feels from her. Nadia wears her black robe because she understands its symbolic power to keep people away from her. Within her country, people assume the robe means she’s a conservative, religious woman and is therefore not worth harassing. Because Nadia values her freedom and autonomy, she appreciates that the robe keeps people away. Saeed, however, associates the robe with the religion and culture he loves, which Nadia disdains. He becomes angry about Nadia wearing the robe because it symbolizes her hypocrisy to him—that she will use their culture in a superficial fashion while disdaining it. In this sense, the robe becomes a symbol of the larger conflict in their relationship, highlighting their different philosophies and values.