What’s the novel about? Or rather ... What are some of the topic paragraphs you can prepare to include in a general question, that is, if you are lucky enough to get one? Here’s two.
Hamid is presenting an alternative perspective on America’s role in today’s global world.
He uses his construction of a conversation between a Pakistani, Changez, & an unnamed/everyman American as the way of allowing this view to be expressed. However, this relationship remains ambiguous and quite mutually threatening throughout the monologue, mirroring many of the international relationships America has had with countries around the world, the suspicion of west for east, Christian for Muslim, etc.
The tables are turned, so to speak, so that this, often minority view, can be heard, without interruption on home ground. (In Pakistan, set in Old Anarkali) Although mostly scrupulously polite, Changez’s recollection of his disenchantment with all things American amounts to his being so honest & revealing that much of what he says is a surreptitious insult to his listener. The story is of the fall of an empire, the listener’s empire.
The events of 9/11 & the consequent changes that took place between nations, religions and people are the material of the novel. The intersection of the political self with the personal seems to be Hamid’s concern, eg: Changez cannot wear a beard, as a sign of his personal identity without raising suspicion regarding his potential political motivations. The patriotism with which America reacts classes the once admired “soldier”of capitalism of Underwood Samson, as an outsider, a foreigner in the once cosmopolitan New York.
The “dangerous nostalgia” which America gave itself over to in the wake of 9/11, according to Hamid, aided & abetted policies of invasion, occupation and assumptions of righteousness. For individuals it entitled them to discriminate, demonise and fear the other. Thus, the political became personal. This also was seen to bleed into feelings of trust and loyalty, or rather their opposites, mistrust & disloyalty and, by extension, of the necessity to define oneself in terms of identity & homeland. In Hamid’s characters he compelled them, Changez and Erica for instance, to make choices in response to the changed circumstances in America & elsewhere. Changez is at risk of being complicit in working against his homeland. “Beware the darkside,” says Wainwright, just as Luke Skywalker fights against his father, so he must choose to define his allegiances. These allegiances are not just ones concerning family or nation, but of values & beliefs. That which defines identity.
Hamid demonstrates how peoples’ characters/ identities can be redefined, challenged, conflicted and finally newly discovered, ie: Changez.
The mature Changez, who is compelled to retell his tale of falling out of love with America, is a university lecturer, actively advocating “disengagement” with America by Pakistan and championing “greater independence” of Pakistan. Yet initially he is “a lover of America,” believing that “everything was possible.” He fully embraced the myth of the American dream wanting to contribute to his adopted society, enthusiastically joining the ranks of the “meritocracy.”
On reflection he realises that the system in fact stole the “best and brightest” from other lands to build its own empire. Nevertheless, Changez diligently threw himself and his considerable skills into both Underwood Samson and America itself. “Training and experience”were all Changez needed according to Jim, to “transform” his life. Both status and money were within his grasp. The allegory of his relationship with Erica paralleled this attraction to America’s corporate world. It was in Manila, where he so arrogantly identified as an American, that Changez began to question his loyalties, question where he belonged. It was in the hostile look from the jeepney driver that Changez realised that “he shared a sort of Third World sensibility.” His profound “perplexity” at his own reaction to viewing the 9/11 collapse of the twin towers shook Changez’s sense of himself.
While simultaneously appreciating his university education, “lucrative salary” and infatuation with an American woman, Changez’s loyalties were certainly conflicted. However, during the flight and upon arrival at the NY airport it was the changed attitudes of others that caused him to be “uncomfortable” in his “own face” and to feel “very much alone.”
It is not until when he is in Valparaiso, Chile that Changez comes to terms with who he is and where he should be. He recognised that he in fact was “a modern day janissary” working against his own, “a servant of the American empire.” His loyalty he discovers lies not with America, Underwood Samson or Erica but with his homeland, Pakistan. He has been dutiful to all yet feels guilty about not being with his family when they are under threat from India. His eventual abandonment of his job ironically also causes tension regarding his loyalty to his family whom he supports. However, overriding this is his identification with the values to which he believes he belongs. These are the fundamentals of his life: of respect for others, especially elders, of appreciation for traditions and history, of culture and a belief in nonviolence. Changez then casts off the idea that his allegiance lies with Pakistan alone but with all humanity. Finally, Hamid uses the metaphor of the glow of a firefly which surpasses borders and nationalities, “transcends the boundaries of continents and civilisations,” to illustrate where Changez’s energies must lie, where in fact the readers’ loyalty must sit in today’s globalised world.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
1.The Reluctant Fundamentalist shows us that people are connected just as much by fear and anger as they are by love. To what extent is this true?
In the novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, suggests that a world where fear and suspicion dominate the landscape is an unhealthy one. The main characters have mutual doubts and a lack of trust despite the warmth that exists between them. This disconnection is partly fuellled by fear that comes from a world, where the pursuit of political differences and economic fundamentalism, has driven races apart. Anger also emanates from a world where people and places are dominated by bigger or stronger or richer countries and so resentments are born. Hamid’s use of dramatic monologue intensifies the sense of alarm and suspicion between the ‘anatagonists’ yet perhaps the author is suggesting, that this climate of fear is not justified.
2.‘You are a watchful guy. You know where it comes from?... It comes from feeling out of place…’ Changez is not the only outsider in The Reluctant Fundamentalist-every character is an outsider. Do you agree?
Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist suggests that the world people exist in is alienating for a variety of reasons. People are disconnected by fear and anger, by loneliness and sadness, by religion and politics. And by external and internal issues. The consequence is a world where a sense of home can be hard to find. Thus people often assume the role of the outsider. In Hamid’s novel, Changez, whilst being a ‘lover ‘of America becomes increasingly outside it after 9/11. His colleagues at Underwood Samson can also be seen to be on the fringes because of economic or racial grounds. Even the epitome of American success, Erica, struggles to find a home in a world of grief.
3.The Reluctant Fundamentalist shows us that understanding our identity is more fundamental than money, power or love. Discuss.
Changez, the main character in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the complex novel by Mohsin Hamid, comes from an elite background although the family no longer have financial power. He is therefore understandably lured to the bright modernity of New York in search of wealth and recognition. Whilst he is initially thrilled by the ‘skyscrapers’, Changez is exposed to people and places in the course of his job that lead him to examine his actions and beliefs. The Pakistani national finds, through crucial political incidents in his world and to his surprise, that some things are of greater value than money. Changez learns, through his involvement with Erica, the privileged American beauty , that relationships hold an important place in his life, but that they also help to clarify where he belongs.
4. Mohsin Hamid actively involves the reader in his novel and uses a variety of techniques to create tension. Discuss.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist uses a variety of narrative strategies that contribute to the novel’s atmospheric world. The dramatic monologue employed by Hamid, means there is only one voice heard throughout the entire novel. The teasing conversation that Changez conducts with the American engages the reader in the mocking, possibly sinister action. Hamid composes a story within a story that sets up a tension between the past and the present , the dark and the light, the East and the West. By using metaphorical and symbolic techniques, the action is intensified and imbued with greater meaning and so sets the reader more on edge.
~Written by my teacher~