This was a piece I wrote in preperation for my SAC. If someone could give me some feedback and even a grade I would be very appreciative. Thanks in advance “To what extent is The Reluctant Fundamentalist about nostalgia?”
Mohsin Hamid’s award winning novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist is, to a very large extent, about nostalgia and a longing and reminiscing of the past as well as the dangers involved with being nostalgic. The word nostalgia was originally derived from a Greek word that translates to longing to return home, and now refers to a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former time or place. During the novel, both individuals and nations are represented as dangerously nostalgic. Changez describes nostalgia as ‘crack cocaine’ and comments on its addiction being a cause for alcoholism and suicide in his family. For America the catastrophe of September 11 that causes it to be humbled as a world power leads to its indulgence in longing for its past in order to assuage its pain. On an allegorical level, the character of Erica longs for her long lost childhood lover Chris, which causes her initial attraction and her eventual separation from Changez. Erica’s longing for Chris is symbolic of America’s own longing for a time before 9/11 when its citizens felt safer and her relationship with Changez is symbolic of America’s change in identity and behaviour towards immigrant’s post 9/11. Changez also longs for the time when his birth nation of Pakistan was in a period of glory.
The world which Erica forms in her mind after the death of Chris becomes increasingly overriding of the world in which she resides. For Erica, the world of euphoria she experiences in her dreams and fantasies are as real as any world she has ever experienced. Erica describes Chris and the world they once had as ‘home’, giving the connotation of nostalgia in this context a double meaning as she literally wishes to return ‘home’. It is Erica’s inability to let go of Chris that consequently inhibits her relationship with Changez. The only way Erica is able to free herself from nostalgia and allow her relationship with Changez to become intimate is when Changez undertakes a faux pas and pretends to be Chris. Whilst nostalgia can bring short term resolution to pain, in the long term it can have seriously negative implications on ones soul. As Erica becomes enveloped in her nostalgia, she becomes increasingly ill, mentally unstable, and ‘lacking in life’ and eventually throws herself into the Hudson River. In this context nostalgia is seen as a dangerous illness that overcomes the body’s senses and replaces logic with an illusion.
America longs for a time of perceived innocence prior to the terrorist attacks that ‘brought America to its knees’. The threat of terrorism caused the once multicultural New Yorkers to indulge in patriotism and a littering of American flags that was present during historical events such as WWII. Changez explains that after 9/11 ‘America was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia... There was something undeniably retro about flags and uniforms... I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back.’ For Americans, the destruction of the twin towers induces the formation of a cicatrix that ignites an old flame. A flame of the past that invokes Americans to reminisce about a time when they felt safe and protected, leaving them to feel crestfallen and suffer from nostalgia. It also causes New York to lose its strong sense of multiculturalism and turn its back on many of its citizens due to suspicion and fear. America’s nostalgia causes it to become mistrusting and suspicious of people born on the other side of its border. Leading it to defenestrate its morals and beliefs and be overcome by hysteria.
When Changez first visits America he is met with a sudden feeling of bliss. He is sure that the opportunity he has been given is ‘a dream come true’ and is a seldom opportunity. But the longer he stays in America, the more jealous he grows too be of their wealth. Leading him to become increasingly ashamed of what Pakistan has become since its glittered historical past. Changez’ mentor and boss Jim describes the places that he and Changez’ come from as ‘places that were wasting away’. These events along with others lead to Changez becoming resentful towards his country of origins fall from glory. ‘We built the royal mosque... We built the Lahore fort with its mighty walls... and we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen colonies gnawing away at the edge of a continent.’ Changez shows a pride for Pakistan that runs deep in his veins. This is evident when he is racially abused in the car park. He could have easily let their comments go in order to avoid trouble, but instead he stood up to the racists and sternly told them to say it to his face because he has a great pride in where he comes from and thinks no one has the right to abuse him for it. It is this part of Changez’ reality, his deep connection to Pakistan, that becomes cataclysmic to his life in the corporate world. For he realises that by working for Underwood Samson he is helping the American empire grow stronger which weakens Pakistan and inhibits its chances of ever regaining the glory that he longs for.
Whilst the novel shows a deep portrayal that looking back in history can be dangerous. It also has evidence to show that looking to far forward can also have similar implications. During Changez’ time at Underwood Samson he is constantly struck by the company’s ability to focus on the fundamentals and invoke great change and be able ignore the implications that follow such as leaving many of a company’s employees redundant. This narrow minded focus on financial gain is symbolic of the vision possessed by corporate America and indicates that it only looks in one direction, forward, which opposes the view that the rest of America post 9/11 has been struck down by nostalgia and looking back at the past. This constant change and evolution in the corporate world is also seen by Changez as equally dangerous to nostalgia as it too causes a blinded view of the world and an inability surrounding how to deal with underlying emotion, as is the case with Changez, who struggles with the idea that his actions have highly detrimental implications on the lives of other people.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is highly littered with feelings of nostalgia in both individuals and countries. Whilst nostalgia may bring short term relief to difficult situations, if one does not move on and face reality, their nostalgia may encapsulate them and cause them great harm like with Erica. Mohsin Hamid creates a situation in The Reluctant Fundamentalist that manifests itself to the idea that nostalgia is dangerous as it blinds people of what is truly real. He also creates the impression that in order to live with a clear mind, one should balance looking into the future and reflecting on the past. For if one becomes too indulged in looking to the future or the past, they become blinded by what they see and begin to live in a world detached from the one in which they reside.