Article Reviews

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – “Is Changez a Solid Character?” Essay

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In Mohsin Hamid’s taut psychological thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist readers are exposed to the gradual degradation of Changez’s personal image and relationships. The solidity of Changez can be clearly seen through his stages of moving to America, progressing through university and meeting Erica. This initial mind-set is lost after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and is replaced with him losing his self-identity and eventually losing America and Erica.

Changez prior to 9/11 is adorned with privilege and is thought of as “something special” that should be encouraged and reinforced to ensure he becomes successful. In the immediate after-math of the Twin Tower bombings Changez’s relationship with both the city of New York and his would be lover Erica become confused. Finally, in a Post 9/11 world Changez’s relationship with America is shaken and his relationship with Erica is unsecure leaving him questioning his self-identity and who he really is.

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In Hamid’s alluringly structured novel readers view these events in retrospect as they are recounted to an un-named “American”. The structure of the text as a first person dramatic monologue forces readers to confront their own views and values about current world events and also their own beliefs about America’s place in the world and their individual responsibility to engage with a complex global environment.

Changez coming from a Pakistani background and with an endless potential is really “something special”, and “Students like [him] were given visas and scholarships, complete financial aid… and invited in the ranks of the meritocracy”. Having being given these opportunities and using them to his advantage Changez knew that “in [his] senior year that [he] was something special… [He] was confident of getting any job [he] wanted. Changez knows that he is “something special” more so when he first meets Erica for the first time.

He attempts to ask her out for a drink, which of course she says she would be “delighted to do so”. The acceptance of his proposal by Erica only adds to his self-confidence and how he perceives himself, this enables him to develop his understanding of the culture he so longs to be infused in through his work with Underwood Samson and his relationship with Erica. This self-worth development period is idyllic for Changez to secure his “unshakeable” solidity which is later challenged by upcoming events.

Changez’s world and relationships are fundamentally changed with the bombing on the World Trade Centre in New York. At this stage of the novel Changez is shoved out of the comfortable zone he once occupied and was now showing signs of his unshakeable self-worth being taken down. In a sense Changez is losing himself because of the attacks- what he once believed about himself being “something special” has become more of a burden than a gift leaving Changez feeling “unsettled”.

In the proceedings of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre Changez “flew to New York, uncomfortable in [his] own face: [he] was aware of being under suspicion; [and] felt guilty”. Changez had been put out of place and was unsure about his prior thoughts on where he belonged in society and what ‘he’ was. At this point he was not “certain where [he] belonged” anymore, and was only realising more often than not, that he was losing his self-worth and his identity.

His epiphany causes him to re-evaluate his relationships and his social standing in New York, as he is unable to maintain his substantial identity. Finally in the closing chapters of the text Changez is able to concatenate the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the eventual degradation of his self-image and the relationships that are diminished with it. He also realises his true resentment for America and its “ways”, and in a parallel mindset desired Erica after losing her.

Even in the early stages of the novel we can see Changez developing thoughts about how Americans act and why he resents their attitudes. When he is holidaying in Greece he notices the ease in which the Americans parted with money, this was just the beginning of his resent for American culture and its people. He often made comparisons that troubled him to the point where he would become resentful. Changez states that four thousand years ago “we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities… while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians”.

His resent from this situation comes from the fact that the tables had turned and now the cities of Pakistan had grown increasingly unplanned whereas America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. Changez had completely lost faith in the American culture and had lost Erica, this brought his self-image “to its knees” and resulted in him leaving for Lahore back to his family for the meantime, Changez’s apparent resentment for America is still very active by the last chapters of the novel “[Changez] had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world…”.

The gradual degradation of Changez’s personal image and relationships are what bring down Changez’s initial self-image that he worked so hard to build. The solidity of Changez can be clearly seen through his stages of moving to America, progressing through university and meeting Erica. This initial mind-set is lost after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001 and is replaced with him losing his self-identity and eventually losing America and Erica. The reader develops their own view of Changez in context of his solidity and self.

Changez’s initial thoughts of being “something special” soon slip from his mind and is artificially replaced with the prejudiced term given to him by an American, “fucking Arab. ” This is a clear reason for his resent against the American culture, this leaves the reader questioning their own individual responses to the complex political environment that exists within the twenty-first century. NOTE: I need to know whether the word “concatenate” was used in the correct context (first sentence of the 3rd paragraph), also the word consolidated, which I did not use but would like to know in what context I could use it.