Mohsin Hamid’s first-person novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” details the fictional story of a young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street, and suddenly finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American dream and the unrelenting tug of his ties to his homeland. After being inducted into the corporate world of America when beginning work at Underwood Sampson, the novels protagonist, Changez becomes disenchanted with, or unable to identify with Pakistan, whereas after the event of 9/11, Changez slowly became more critical of America and its actions and treatment of him and other Muslims, eventually causing him to develop a strong allegiance with his fellow Muslims in Pakistan and its neighbouring countries; Changez feels a sense of displacement in both America and Pakistan, as a result of America’s changing perception of him before and after 9/11.
Around the beginning of the novel as he divulges his story to the American, Changez describes how Manhattan seemed to embrace him; in chapter 3 Changez’s nostalgic recollections of his initial impressions of New York indicate that he felt very much the opposite of out of place: “For me, moving to New York felt –so unexpectedly-like coming home.” (page 36). “…I was immediately a New Yorker.”(page 37). However his comments did include comparisons between Pakistan and New York, and he tells the American that such comparisons troubled him as to be reminded of “this vast disparity, was, for me, to be ashamed”. This vast difference in the technological and industrial development between America and Pakistan had at this point begun to prompt Changez’s inadvertent disengagement from Pakistan, as he then went on to state: “On that day, I did not think of myself as a Pakistani, but as an Underwood Samson trainee, and my firm’s impressive offices made me proud”(page 38).
As Changez’s time at Underwood Sampson and in New York progress, he enthuses over the opulent lifestyle and culture of Manhattan and its inhabitants, and begins to feel more connected with America. Changez believes that his life is taking its natural course, he is happy to be in the centre of American high society. As Changez begins to feel as though he has been accepted into this niche of American living, his affiliation with America, in particular it’s corporate lifestyle, strengthens, and as a result of Changez wholly accepting his new lifestyle, he also adopts a new attitude, and as a result begins to feel out of place in Pakistan, and Changez notices this change in himself during his shrewd appraisal of his family’s home upon return to Pakistan: “….it occurred to me that the house had not changed in my absence.
I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American”. It can be presumed that America’s immediate acceptance of Changez into its corporate life is what led to Changez’s changing attitude and what would cause him to feel out of place in Pakistan and further affiliate himself with America. This would soon change however, post -9/11, when America’s attitude to Changez would take a drastic turn.
After 9/11, Changez’s experience of America and its people changes, the beginning of this, occurs when he is returning from a business trip in the Philippines and is separated from his team and interrogated solely on the basis of his middle-eastern appearance. As life progresses after 9/11, Changez talks of how New York seemed to have turned from a large melting pot, to a violently patriotic city that had been draped in the American flag after 9/11. Changez tells of post-9/11 racist attacks against Muslim men, and FBI raids on Mosques, shops and peoples houses, as well as the disappearances of Muslim men. Amid explaining this transformation, Changez tells the American that at the time, he chose not to believe that their was an obvious connection between the “crumbling of the world around me and the impending destruction of my personal American dream”.
Is can be deduced that the destruction of Changez’s American dream was prompted by New York’s differentiation of him. Changez began to feel out of place In America: “It is remarkable….the impact a beard worn by a man of my complexion has on your fellow countrymen. More than once….where I had always had the feeling of seamlessly blending in, I was subjected to verbal abuse by complete strangers, and at Underwood Sampson I had overnight, become a subject of whispers and stares”. The events that occur in New York post-9/11 are what caused Changez to feel out of place in America, and consequently, his attitude changes once more, this time, to one of bewilderment at the drastic turn of events that led him to feel like an alien in a place he once felt was his home.
Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” tells the story of a man whose life in a place whose identity is monumentally altered after tragic turn of events leads him on the search for his own identity, and a redefinition of where his loyalties lie. Over the course of the novel the protagonist Changez struggles with his changing feelings of displacement in both America and Pakistan, but ultimately it is America’s drastically different reception of him as a student and corporate figure on one hand, and an alien middle eastern man on the other, that caused Changez to feel out of place in both Pakistan and America.
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