Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.


By showcasing minor characters with the freedom to migrate instantaneously through doors, Exit West posits that people immigrate to other countries to find possibility, which often takes different forms. Early in the novel, the people who go through the doors follow the classic narrative of the endangered refugee in search of safety. As we see with Saeed and Nadia, life in their own city became impossible, without freedom, privacy, or financial opportunities. However, this narrative takes a turn in Chapter 7, when we learn of the British accountant who saves his own life by going through a door from London to Namibia. For the accountant, a change of scenery allows him to find freedom and adventure he didn’t experience in London. In Chapter 9, the wrinkled Brazilian man goes back and forth between Brazil and Amsterdam until his relationship with the Dutchman turns into a romance. He migrates to find love. Finally, the Moroccan maid in Chapter 11 chooses not to migrate at all because she assumes nowhere else in the world can accept her and no possibilities exist outside her community. Whatever the initial motivation behind migration, the characters in the novel all search for new possibilities, which can mean safety, opportunity, or just finding a kindred spirit.

The Danger of Nationalism

Exit West questions what it means to belong somewhere and suggests that country of origin plays only a small role in a rapidly globalizing world. Nadia, who never felt at home in the country of her birth, embodies this philosophy in her ability to find friends and kindred spirits in all the places she travels. She doesn’t value the concept of nationality because she associates her home country with the repression of her childhood. Although Saeed initially stays close to people from his own country, he eventually finds those who are spiritually his people when he locates the Black mosque in Marin, which expands his understanding of his own religion. Throughout the novel, when characters cling to ideas of purity or nationalism, they often take a turn toward violence. Beyond the purity-obsessed nativists and militants in Nadia and Saeed’s home country, fear and strife happen between immigrant groups in London in part because they group themselves by country of origin. Saeed approaches the Nigerians in the London house with fear, and he procures a gun using his nationality. In contrast, when Nadia makes an effort to connect with her neighbors on the council, she earns respect and friendship.


Despite the amount of violence in the novel, the theme of the commonality of mortality generally showcases the natural inevitability of death and treats it as a sign of both the commonalities of humanity and the preciousness of life. In the early chapters, the narrator always mentions when a character will die in the oncoming violence, emphasizing life’s fragility and unpredictability. Death looms in quiet moments, too. When Saeed prays or looks at stars, he feels connected to all of humanity because these actions remind him of mortality, which affects all humans. In this sense, the novel portrays mortality as both tragic and extremely natural. Saeed’s father opts not to go through the door because of his own sense of mortality and the belief that by not pursuing a future for himself, he will allow Saeed room to grow and flourish. Although circumstance causes Saeed’s father to accept his own mortality at a younger age than he might have otherwise, his decision nevertheless feels like an acknowledgement of the circle of life. Therefore, when the novel compares the end of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship to a death, it depicts both the tragedy of their parting and its necessity for the rebirth of Saeed and Nadia’s lives.