Read: The Reluctant Fundamentalist ( the entire text)
- Lecture Notes: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
- The Title
As mentioned before in previous lecture notes, begin your analysis of a text by analyzing the title of the text. This title consists of three words. What does the word reluctant mean? What does the word fundamentalist mean? Concerning the word fundamentalist, there is a dictionary definition and a popular definition. In today’s society, the word fundamentalist is defined as a religious fanatic or extremist, and, unfortunately, often more times than not, it is associated with a particular religion. So, think about what the author may be trying to argue through the meaning of his title: the reluctant religious extremist.
- The Setting
This story takes place mainly in a café in Lahore, Pakistan. Why do you think the author, Mohsin Hamid, has the main plot take place in this café? What does this environment show? Throughout the telling of his narrative, there will be flashbacks to other settings, which we will examine in other parts of the lecture.
- C. Plot and Characterization
As mentioned above, the story opens in café in Lahore, Pakistan where the main character, Changez, a Pakistani Muslim, encounters another individual whom Changez describes as being an American. Changez interrupts the foreigner’s meal and enters into a conversation with him. Pay close attention to who is talking and to who is not talking. As you read, the American gentleman never speaks. What does this mean? Why does the author not allow the American to speak? How would you characterize Changez’s interaction with this gentleman? Examine Changez’s comments. For example, what do think when Changez says, “How did I know you were an American?…True, your hair, short-cropped, and your expansive chest-the chest I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly…are typical of a certain type of American; but then again, sportsmen and soldiers of all nationalities tend to look alike. Instead, it was your bearing that allowed me to identify you”(pg. 2) What is Changez implying about the American? The American does not have a name? Why is this important? Do you think Changez’s encounter with the American is purely by chance? Or is it deliberate? How would you characterize the waiter who serves tea to Changez and the American? How would you describe the waiter’s demeanor toward the American?
After Changez introduces himself, he begins to tell the American his life story. The reader learns that Changez comes from a former wealthy family and is a brilliant student who gains admission into one the most prestigious universities in the world, Princeton University. So, Changez, a student from the east, attends a western college. The reader sees how initially Changez succeeds in the United States. He does very well academically, professionally, and socially. He maintains an A average, obtains a prestigious internship, and enters a relationship with a beautiful American woman named Erica. One can say that Changez has assimilated quite well into American life. However, one cannot forget that America’s wealth and power also made Changez ashamed to be Pakistani (pgs. 33-34).One can see that Changez’s being in the United States is causing some type of internal conflict for him. What is this conflict?
Concerning his relationship with Erica, the reader sees that they have a rocky relationship . Erica does not she completely embrace Changez, for her attachment to her deceased former boyfriend, Chris, prevents her from uniting with Changez. Why can Erica not let go of Chris? Of what may Changez and Erica’s relationship be symbolic? I will give you a clue: the name Erica resembles what name? And the name Chris is an allusion to whom? To what person?
In chapter 5, Changez tells the American how his business trip to Manila in the Philippines is a turning point in his life. While Changez is on this trip, the World Trade Center twin towers in New York are attacked by terrorist and destroyed with thousands of casualties (9/11). Changez says, “ I stared as one-and then the other – of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased”(pg. 72) Based on Changez comments in the earlier chapters, why do you think Changez is pleased about the destruction of the twin towers? Why is he pleased that “ someone had so visibly brought America to her knees”(pg. 73)?
Upon returning to the United States, Changez is viewed by others with suspicion and even harassed at the airport upon his arrival in New York, simply because he his a Muslim from Pakistan. While Changez is telling the American this part of his life story, Changez infers that the American is becoming more tense. Changez says, “Your tone is curt; I can see that I offended you, angered you even. But I have not, I suspect entirely surprised you. Do you deny it?…Perhaps, you have drawn certain conclusions from my appearance, my lustrous beard…” (pgs. 75-76). It appears that both Changez and the American are becoming more suspicious of each other. Who do you think the American is? Who is Changez? Why would Changez’ beard make the American feel uncomfortable?
As Changez continues his conversation with the American in the café, the atmosphere is becoming more and more uncomfortable. Changez points out to the American that “…there continues to be something about [the] waiter that puts you ill at ease…And if you sense that he has taken a dislike to you…;his tribe merely spans both sides of [the] border with neighboring Afghanistan, and has suffered during offensives conducted by your countrymen”(pg. 108). Changez is referencing America’s war in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack.
Back in New York, people become more hostile toward Changez because of 9/11, and he has some ugly encounters. Changez returns home to Pakistan to visit his family, where he lets go of his clean shaven look and grows his beard, which is a trademark of religious fundamentalist in Pakistan and in other countries. However, does Changez let his beard grow for religious reasons? Is Changez an observant Muslim? Is there any religious discussion in this text? Many people today believe that the current conflicts between western societies and Muslim fundamentalist are religious conflicts. Is the writer Mohsin Hamid making this argument? If not, then what is Hamid saying is the cause of the conflicts between Middle Eastern fundamentalists and Western countries? Upon his return to New York from Pakistan, many of Changez’s coworkers distance themselves from him and begin to view him differently (pgs 129-130).
In chapter 9, Erica has a breakdown and is hospitalized, and she ends the relationship with Changez? Why does she break up with Changez? What does the end of relationship with Erica mean for Changez’s relationship with America?
To improve Changez’s spirit, Jim, Changez’s boss and mentor, invites him to participate in a business project in Chile. Changez must go there and to assess the value of a publishing company. There he encounters Juan Bautista, the chief publisher, who is against the selling of the company. Juan Bautista observes Changez, and one day has a discussion with him in which he relates the story of the janissaries who were “ Christian boys captured by the Ottomans (Muslim Turks) and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army…They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own [Christian] civilization, so they had nothing else to turn to.” (pg. 151). What does this story mean for Changez? Why does this story affect him to the point that he quits this project in Chile and is fired from his American Dream job? What does Changez learn about himself through his encounter with Juan Bautista?
After he leaves New York for good, Changez returns to Pakistan where he obtains a job as a university teacher. He becomes popular with the students and becomes an outspoken critic of the West, leading his students in protests against the United States. What has caused Changez to go from “model immigrant” who obtains the American dream to a hater of America? Who or what caused this change?
At the very of the text, Changez offers to escort the American back to his hotel. On the way there, the American notices someone who looks like the waiter is following them. Changez says to him, “ Yes, those men are now rather close, and yes, the expression on the face of that one-what a coincidence; it is our waiter…- is rather grim. But they mean you no harm…you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that Americans are all undercover assassins” (pg. 183). The ending is quite enigmatic. What do you think will happen? Do we really know the true identities of both Changez and the American?