Introduction: Love-and-Hate Relationships in Reluctant Fundamentalist
For a range of reasons starting with political tensions and up to the cultural differences, there has been considerable tension between people of Muslim descent and the representatives of the U.S. population (Jackson 26). The history of the confrontations between the two cultures has been quite dramatic, leading to the development of a range of prejudices on both sides (Ahmed xiv). However, the biases in question reach by far the greatest magnitude when the Muslim population is in the scope of the analysis.
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Very few members of the American population, however, actually think of how the representatives of the Muslim community view them and whether their vision of the American culture coincides.
In his book The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid addresses the problems of Muslim people in American society. Rendering a range of the societal factors and current events that define the attitude of an average American to a member of the Muslim community, Hamid also sheds light on how the Muslim people envision the American values and the very concept of the American identity.
By building his character, Changez, in a very original manner and displaying him as both the lover and the critic of the American traditions, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist makes the audience realize the depth of the cross-cultural conflict that lies between the two nations, at the same time suggesting a path to a mutual understanding, a compromise, and the final reconciliation.
The Mechanics of Shaping the Character: Tools and Codes Used by the Author
Building the character of Changez, Hamid uses primarily dialogue as the tool for establishing his motivations, philosophy, and frame of mind. The identified approach is doubtlessly efficient, as it creates the impression of the character leaving a purely objective impact on the audience. Particularly, the author introduces the elements of hatred towards some of the details of the American culture into the dialogue, such as people’s xenophobia: “It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins” (Hamid 183).
While the reader takes the statements such as the one above with a grain of salt, knowing that it comes from a character and, therefore, may be exaggerated, it leaves an impact. Uttered by a person with a Muslim identity, the quote above serves as an essential tool for understanding why Changez might develop a grudge against the American culture. However, with a speck of irony and the emphasis on the mutually bigoted relationships between Americans and Muslims, the statement loses its harshness. The author portrays the character as a flawed human being, thus, making it clear that his attitude may be taken with a grain of salt, yet his judgments are worth taking into consideration. There is a point in the novel, where Hamid states directly that Changez’s story is only one of the many ways of looking at reality:
For we were not always burdened by debt, dependent on foreign aid and handouts; in the stories, we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and – yes – conquering kings. (Hamid 102)
By creating the unique philosophy that soon becomes Changez’s trademark, Hamid designs the character that is both believable and relatable. As a result, the readers understand the transgression from loving America to hating it and do not view the character as a hypocrite for the striking difference between his claims and emotions. Instead, the readers find a way to sympathize with him as they see the journey that he made, as well as the trials and tribulations that he went through: “I responded to the gravity of an invisible moon at my core, and I undertook journeys I had not expected to take” (Hamid 172).
Reasons for Building the Character the Way It Is: The Mysterious Ways of a Critic
When considering the reasons for the author to build the character that despises the United States and at the same time has developed an attraction to the place and the people inhabiting it, one might assume that, by doing so, the author tries to trick the audience into paying attention to the ideas that he is trying to render. There is no secret that a well fleshed out character may hide some of the flaws and dents in the plot, the setting, etc.
Therefore, by making his character slightly controversial, the author could be attempting at making the reader focus on the compelling argument that he was building. The lead character serves as the main point of addressing the controversial issues on the American political and socio-cultural agenda: “As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you” (Hamid 168).
By stating explicitly to be the patriot of the United States and at the same time criticizing it so harshly, Changez sets the stage for further analysis of the issues raised in the process. While trying to guess whether the narrator is trying to disguise himself as a patriot or truly admitting the U.S. culture’s flaws and embracing them, the reader realizes what issues are currently making the United States weaker. Furthermore, the issues regarding the international politics of the States and the current forceful approach that the government is taking is addressed in the novel through a rough criticism of the American policy and the discussion of some of the topical issues.
However, creating a character for the sole purpose of attracting the audience and making a point means sacrificing the uniqueness and likeability thereof, which is to the case of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Despite the controversy of some of his judgments, Changez can be deemed as a rather complex and compelling character. Therefore, there is much more to him than merely serving the purpose of identifying some of the flaws in the U.S. policies.
Apart from the function mentioned above, the three-dimensional nature of the character and the seeming inconsistency in his attitude towards the United States and its culture may also help address the very nature of the tension between Americans and Muslims. There is no need to stress that the current communication process between the representatives of the American culture and the Islamic one could use a certain improvement. The controversial nature of Changez’s arguments may serve as the platform for building mutual understanding between the people in question, therefore, leading to a faster and more efficient resolution of the conflict in question.
Finally, the introspect into the American culture and politics that the lead character provides by combining the viewpoints of a rather complex nature could be interpreted as an opportunity for the American citizens to cognize themselves by viewing their world through the lens of a stranger. The specified reason for Changez to incorporate the character traits that are so controversial and conflicting with each other seems to be the most feasible one.
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Even though the rough criticism that the character supplies while claiming that he loves the United States may be seen as rather convoluted and somewhat manipulating, Changez does manage to create a rather interesting [portrayal of the American culture viewed through the lens of a Muslim one.
Considering the novel closer, one must admit that all of the three purposes mentioned above could be the author’s idea and the primary reason for portraying the character’s emotions in the original way that he did. The third suggestion mentioned above, i. e., shedding light on the American culture and providing the residents of the U.S. with an opportunity to observe their life through the eyes of a stranger seems the closest to the truth since the novel touches upon a range of societal issues and mentions certain routes that can be viewed as an incentive for a change in the contemporary society.
Nevertheless, it seems that the character of Changez was shaped by a variety of factors, the three ones mentioned above being only the tip of the iceberg. After all, the design of a compelling character, while keeping the story together, also helps the audience identify with them and, therefore, understand the author’s intent better. Thus, the complex nature of Changez and his attitude toward the American culture, particularly, his love-hate relationship with it, can be deemed as a part of an attempt to interpret the specifics of relationships between the American and the Muslim population, as well as search for the solution of the conflicts emerging regularly between the two and eliminating the possibility of a cross-cultural confrontation (Richards and Omidwar 244).
Conclusion: When a Sociocultural Agenda Meets a Political One
Although the functions that Changez’ character and his original, two-fold attitude toward the American culture and American people may seem a cheap ploy to attract the attention of the readers to a current problem, the actual reasons behind the introduction of this character into the novel may concern the attempt to locate a compromise and solve the current conflict between the members of the Muslim and the American communities.
Hamid builds a character in a very elaborate manner, avoiding describing him explicitly and establishing him mostly through a dialog or a monolog; as a result, the reader is provided with an opportunity to judge Changez on his own merits. The environment, in which the character is placed, and the changes that he undergoes in his concept of the United States, the American values, the people, etc., makes his lack of appreciation for the subject matter quite relatable.
Although some of the ideas that Changez expresses are arguable, the complex nature of the character makes his arguments compelling and worth considering. More importantly, by serving as a prime example of the communication process between the two cultures gone wrong, Changez as a character prompts possible solutions for addressing the current culture clash and contributing to the search for a compromise.
Ahmed, Basheer M. Domestic Violence: Cross Cultural Perspective. New York, NY: Xlibris Corporation, 2009. Print.
Hamid, Moshin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc., 2007. Print.
Jackson, Liz. Muslims and Islam in U.S. Education: Reconsidering Multiculturalism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. Print.
Richards, Anne R., and Iraj Omidwar. Muslims and American Popular Culture. Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO, 2014. Print.