Exit West: Politics of War in Literature

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 675 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Words: 675|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Water Symbolism in Exit West
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited


In media and literature, water has been a recurring scene, which the precariousness of refugees is captured. Since the open ocean is a site different from borders on earth, it is important to notice that water and refugee cannot fully fit into the logistics of nation-states. Though the world consists of 71 percent of water, and the majority is claimed by sovereignties to compete for natural resources and take up trade routes, as defined by the UNCLOS, individual nation is not guaranteed with the right to claim to the water beyond certain miles off their coast. In practice, as ambiguous as the ownership of water seems to be, water carries political implications for refugee passages. Therefore, it is important for us to consider the material and metaphorical role water plays behind the politics of refugee crisis, including its role in Exit West.

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Water Symbolism in Exit West

Firstly, water is rendered with a conceptual elusiveness that sophisticated the simplified claims to sovereignty and security between nations. The spatiality of the ocean dissolutes the clear demarcation of national borders and political power. The faults between sovereignties raise questions to the power structure of the current border-state refugee solution. Trapped in the unowned space between countries, refugees unveil the problematic existing structure of citizenship, protection, and human rights, since nation-state fails to act as a responsible arbiter for refugees. In this respect, water bears the political implication related to the theme of dispossession for refugees who already failed to be categorized into the regulations of the nation-state, evoking the theme of loss, separation or deprivation. Exit West, a refugee fiction, recounting the story of a migrant couple, neither tries to confer a wholeness to the exile community nor to argue for the repeal of the national borders. Instead, it rewrites the world as a spot permanently but gorgeously overrun by refugees and migrants, as “we all migrants through time.” The world’s border is redistributed by mysterious doors all over the world under the open sky, eradicating geographical borders. With hopefulness, the novel focuses on the trend of globalism and cultural unity. Like water with no fixed form or border, neoliberalism could be an alternative solution to the international refugee crisis.

Another implication is that like the soluble quality of water, some humanitarian agencies for refugees function as a depoliticization force. For example, “volunteer humanitarianism”, is a novel humanitarian aid voluntarily provided by grassroots organizations without authoritative fund or supervision. Facing the inhumane situation of refugee crisis, untrained volunteers in the Calais camp, France spontaneously form a tide to assist refugees with food, shelter, water, and so on. As volunteer humanitarianism permeates into each corner of the refugee community, it acts not only as a symbol against authoritative governmental policies, but also an alternative to formal humanitarian assistance, like the UNHCR. Like water’s erosion effect, the neoliberal humanitarian assistance forms forefront activism groups to challenge the accepted migration policies.

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In conclusion, water symbolism in refugee literature includes traces of unconsciousness. It transports humans from birth to death, leading to a new circulation of rebirth. While water’s catastrophic power and salvation effects are portrayed in refugee literature, its political implication should also be paid great attention to. It strikes us with some of the most pressing questions related to refugeehood: Why is water fundamental to urge us to reconsider the existing national borders? What is the division between the displaced and the ones who are not? How should the boundaries of the world be configured with the global trend of migrants? As Jia Tolentino points out in his review “A novel about refugees that feels instantly canonical” on the book Exit West, we need to figure out how to build a vision for the reality of refugee crisis that is not a disaster, but is humane and even inspiring. As water is able to reconfigure boundaries, what would be the results of border redistribution and alternative form of refugee accommodation?  

Works Cited

  1. Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. Riverhead Books, 2017.
  2. Tolentino, Jia. 'A novel about refugees that feels instantly canonical.' The New Yorker, 27 Mar. 2017,
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Exit West: Politics of War in Literature. (2023, August 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from
“Exit West: Politics of War in Literature.” GradesFixer, 04 Aug. 2023,
Exit West: Politics of War in Literature. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2024].
Exit West: Politics of War in Literature [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 04 [cited 2024 May 24]. Available from:
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