“I had actually changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of an immigrant.” How does Changez alter throughout the novel?
The Unwilling Fundamentalist discovers two stopped working love affairs, one with a person and the other with a country. Changez – the dazzling kid from Lahore, who was raised in a utopian background with a caring household yet who dealt with monetary problem, handles to get into Princeton with a generous scholarship, and bags one of the most sought after tasks in the nation at Underwood Samson with his sheer diligence.
He accepts his new task and the huge change from Lahore to New York City; the excellent running start in his profession is a cherished dream come to life, and he does not spare anything in maximizing the opportunity by ending up being the most important resource for his company, only to throw it all away as he starts a journey, which is as much about self-realization as it is about self-destruction.
To start with, for Changez, the journey from Pakistan to Princeton was “a dream come to life.” (Pg. 3) He flourishes on the energy of New york city, and is happy to be a ‘New Yorker’, although he is vital of America’s fond memories and sense of significance. His life has plenty of possibilities not the least of which is the possibility of attaining status, “Underwood Samson had the potential to change my life as undoubtedly as it had actually changed him, making my concerns about money and status things of the remote past.
” (Pg. 16) On an enjoyable day in Lahore, a bearded “lover of America” (pg.1.) exposes to a fearful American complete stranger his love affair and eventual break-up with the so-called land of opportunities, where he undergoes an improvement from a ready liberal to a hesitant fundamentalist. It is also a tale of unrequited cross-cultural love.
Changez finds a good friend in the beautiful, privileged, enigmatic Erica, also a graduate of Princeton, who ends up being at the heart of Changez’s longing for happiness, fulfilment and acceptance on American terms. Erica is a representation of America. Like Changez, she is an outsider “one got the sense that she existed internally at a degree of remove from those around her.” (Pg. 24) The pair grow closer on a group trip to Europe. They go on dates and try to be lovers, at this time; she seems to be making a recovery. The relationship between Changez and Erica “grew stronger when, after observing me struggle, she helped me separate the flesh from the bones of my fish without my having to ask.” (Pg. 33)
Her action of separating the flesh from the bones of his fish is foreshadowing Changez’s change from a Pakistani to an “American.” Changez has strong feelings for Erica, but much to Changez’s despair, it is one-sided. Her grief from the lost of her first love, Chris, makes it impossible for her to have a real relationship with Changez. All goes well until one day when he switches on the television, witnessing the horror “as one – and then the other – of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre collapsed.
And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.” (Pg. 83) Thus, begins his transformation as a “fundamentalist” in a land where he is taught to “stick to the fundamentals.” The single word “smiled” captures both the ruefulness and the wrath of the protagonist. He discovers that his inner voice is in conflict with his non fundamental beliefs. He feels inside him a transformation that comes with a niggling sympathy for the attackers; almost ‘reluctantly’, he finds himself turning into an America bashing radical. The 9/11 attacks are also a turning point for Changez’s and Erica’s relationship, as it acts as a catalyst for a relapse into her depression. At this time, America mirrors Erica.
As it is dealing with the grief from losing thousands of their people, they looked backwards at how much better their country used to be, so does Erica, as she looks back at her childhood love. She seems to be “disappearing” into the same “powerful nostalgia” as America as a nation was. She holds herself remote, is unable to adapt, and Changez comes to realise that she is profoundly depressed and will never stop clinging to her dead partner. When she is admitted to a psychiatric clinic, she later disappears, and it is assumed she has committed suicide. Just as the ending between Changez and the American is ambiguous, the lack of complete certainty about what happens to Erica is mirrored in this.
Now, Changez sees New York as separate from America, because America has taken on a new meaning. It is no longer a great, cutting-edge civilization, but a dangerously powerful and reactive “beast.” When Changez deplanes after his flight from Valparaiso, he sees New York as an imperial city of old. As he walks through the airport with a full grown beard, as “a form of protest on my part, a symbol of my identity” then going on to say “I was deeply angry.”(Pg. 148) he was subject to verbal abuse from strangers. This made him believe that everyone was against him, and just because he had a different hairstyle, he was accused of being a terrorist, making him feel angry and not feeling American like he did previously.
He purposely gets fired from his job at Underwood Samson and returns home to Lahore. There, he becomes a university lecturer, popular among students because of his belief Pakistan must gain international power. He is a political critic of America, but he is no terrorist. He is pushing greater independence in Pakistan’s affairs, becoming involved in protests, being labelled anti-America and receiving official warnings for his courses. This misleads the students, and one gets arrested.
He lets both his work team and his family down by quitting his job, and returning to Lahore. This is a very different Changez to the one met at the beginning of the novel, who wanted to live his “American Dream.” (Pg. 106) But is now letting it go so easily, as both his relationships with Erica and America have failed.
Although Changez develops a great amount of pride and confidence through his success at work, he, at last, get rejects by both Erica and America. Not only is her death the end of their relationship, but Erica’s demise also symbolizes Changez’s pathetically inevitable rejection by America.