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Protagonist in Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” Essay

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Updated: Sep 26th, 2020

Introduction

The Reluctant Fundamentalist novel written by 35-year-old Pakistani Mohsin Hamid provides some insights on the nature of the capitalism and attempts of a person to integrate into a new world. The novel describes a story of a young Pakistani that tries to assimilate in the USA accepting its general views and values eagerly. The man considers himself to be “a lover of America,” however, the reader is sure to understand how contradictory this claim is. The events of September, 11 serve to be the pivot point of the character’s “Americanization” (Cilano 71).

From the very first lines of the book, one might notice the mixed feeling that the main character has towards America. On the face of it, the story of the young Pakistani Changez might appear to look like a dream. Changez received a scholarship to study in one of the most prestigious universities in the USA -Princeton University, got an upmarket job on Wall Street that supplied him with a high salary and allowed renting an apartment in an elite area, fell in love with a beautiful girl, Erica.

Meeting with friends, going to cafes and sporting events blurred the line between Americans and Pakistani – the Americans admitted him to their team. Changez characterized this course of events as “a film in which I was the star and everything was possible” (Hamid 1).

In the meantime, it is evident that the young man had little illusions about his place in the American society. Thus, Changez noted, that from the very beginning, he realized that people like him were welcomed to the country on a particular condition – “we were expected to contribute our talents to your society, the society we were joining” (Hamid 1). Therefore, from the first days in America, the main character experienced contradictory feelings. On the one hand, he was inspired by the new chances that the country opened in front of him; on the other hand, he knew that he was expected to contribute significantly in order to receive access to these opportunities.

Thesis statement

Although Changez appreciates the opportunities that the United States have opened in front of him, as time passes, he starts experiencing love-hate emotions toward the country and its culture due to the social pressure, the attitude of the U.S. citizens, the prejudice that they have toward foreigners, a and the overall atmosphere of the state.

Taking the First Step

Defining the point, at which the lead character is being shaped into both an admirer and a critic of the United States, including its culture and its attitude, one must mention the point at which Changez identifies certain chill in the way that he is being treated by the fellow Americans: “’’We’re a meritocracy,’ he said. ‘We believe in being the best’” (Hamid 6). It would be wrong to assume that the character is ostracized to the point where he becomes an outcast; quite on the contrary, he integrates into the American society rather successfully, as his life story shows.

However, Changez still experiences a rather strong feeling of being looked down and as he communicates with Americans: “That is good, he said, and for the first time it seemed to me I had made something of an impression on him, when he added, but what else?” (Hamid 1). The unwillingness to accept him as a member of their society that the local residents display along with the unsuccessful attempts to conceal their emotions makes Changez experience borderline disdain, leaving him disappointed and lost.

Therefore, the author displays the progression of the character from the confident and inspired foreigner, who was going to integrate into the American society and share his cultural heritage with the rest of the people around him to the immigrant with rather mixed feelings about the state that welcomed it so wholeheartedly yet refused from accepting him as one of the members of the American society (Schlesinger 20).

Particularly, the American attitude towards Muslims as potential terrorists was analyzed and criticized by the main character. For example, flying to New York, he was “aware of being under suspicion” (Hamid 7). Under the pressure of the public opinion, Changez felt guilty, even though, there were no objective reasons for that. It indicated society’s prejudgment that had considerable power over both the Americans and immigrants. After September 11, 2001, US Muslims were considered to be potentially dangerous (Roiphe par. 3) Therefore, it was the first time that the young man had to be concerned about his religious beliefs.

Teaching the Right Ideas

However, as the story progresses, Hamid displays the change in the lead character’s perception of America, making him realize that the land of opportunity can, in fact, be a rather hostile environment (Nair 17). In general, the phenomenon above manifests itself in full force as Changez realizes that the American education is as far on the opposite from flawless as it can be: “Every fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters who came onto campus and as you say in America, showed them some skin” (Hamid 3).

The corruption lying at the heart of the American education, as well as the lack of influence that the student community had on the subject matter, is the first nudge in the love-hate-relationship direction that the author leads the main character to. Indeed, as soon as the lead character learns that the information provided to him at the university should, in fact, have been taken with a grain of salt, it hits him that America can be a rather hostile environment.

Therefore, the identification of the issues in the educational system of the United States can be considered the pivotal point of the character’s realization of the problem at the heart of his admiration for the USA.

The Power of Persuasion

The lead character, therefore, finds the way, in which the American people push him to change his traditional behavioral patterns and becoming an integral part of the American society riveting. On the one hand, the emotional struggle that the narrator goes through as he experiences the social pressure can be viewed as his unwillingness to acclimatize to the new environment and tolerate the convictions and traditions of the people living next to him.

On the other hand, what the society wants him to do is not to put up with the above traditions and ideas but to accept them as an integral part of his being, which means abandoning his beliefs. Consequently, it is when experiencing the pressure of the society and feeling forced to abandon the foundations of his own culture that the lead character finally starts to rebel and develop the dual impression of living in the United States. The suffocating environment, in which the character is forced to exist, and which he has no escape from finally starts to take its toll on him:

It was not the first time Jim had spoken to me in this fashion; I was always uncertain of how to respond. The confession that implicates its audience is as we say in cricket a devilishly difficult ball to play. Reject it and you slight the confessor; accept it and you admit your own guilt (Hamid 11).

One might argue that the process of acculturation and even assimilation is typical for the people that are forced to live in a different cultural environment and communicate with the representatives of another culture. After all, the process of experience sharing is a crucial part of communication that allows building strong relationships and create trust between the participants of a conversation.

However, the phenomenon above may occur only once the process in question is mutual and consensual. In Changez’s case, however, the stifling environment, which he had to survive in, did not invite many opportunities for intercultural sharing of ideas and experiences.

On the contrary, the persuasion that the American culture was foisted on the lead character triggered an increasing rage. Although designed in an admittedly elaborate and exquisite manner, the way, in which the acculturation process was inflicted upon the lead character triggered an immediate repulsion and the following hatred of the United States. Combined with sincere affection for the supportive nature of the American culture, the experience can be defined as highly controversial.

Amidst Chaos and Destruction

However, when it comes to pinpointing the stage at which the lead character becomes completely engulfed into the love-hate relationship that he has with the United States, one must address the awkwardly honest way, in which Changez portrays his emotions after 9/11: “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” (Hamid 12).

The fact that he was incapable of the mere act of sympathy toward the people perished during the terrorist act, pain for the destruction that it brought, and the fear for the lives of the rest of the American population shows that he denied the United States the title of his homeland (Keeble 115).

Although the feeling of content that Changez mentions as he talks about the terrorist act is, in fact, not as sickening as it might seem once approached from a rational point of view, it still creates a rather uncomfortable impression, making it clear that he did not identify himself as a part of the American society. However, the feeling of pleasure that Changez experiences does not make him the critic of the United States; instead, it is the interpretation of these emotions that allows Changez to become one. As the lead character explains, “I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees” (Hamid 12).

Thus, Changez puts the very essence of the American society through a thorough scrutiny. The process brings him to understanding why the United States have become so vulnerable to the external threats; as a result, the character becomes capable of evaluating the problems of the American society from an objective viewpoint (Randall 117). The understanding of the above problems, in its turn, brings Changez to hating the state and the principles that it is based on. In a very weird way, the chaos that America was in on the specified time slot made it possible for Changez to locate the details of its functioning, nailing down the exact problems that the American society had.

In my opinin, the novel elucidates a critical problem of cultural assimilation. The author tries to describe the contradictory feelings of a foreigner that, on the one hand, Changez is decisive to start his life from a scratch in a new homeland, and, on the other side, he experiences powerful impact of his background and traditions. It is also crucial that the author shows the common mistake when a love for particular people and facilities is mistaken for the love for a country. It is wrong to accuse the main character of insincerity when he calls himself “a lover of America.” Meanwhile, it is important to understand what this feeling stands for.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the novel reveals an actual problem of the modern world – the relations between America and Muslim immigrants in the United States. Changez was considered to be a potential terrorist only because he was a Muslim. Although he loved New York at the beginning, it is evident that he failed to assimilate in the United Sates. America offered plenty of opportunities to Changez, but, at the same time, considered him hostile, making him change his vision of American dreams and values as well as to rethink his identity.

Works Cited

Cilano, Cara. From Solidarity to Schisms: 9/11 and After in Fiction and Film from Outside the US. New York, MY: Rodopi, 2009. Print.

Hamid, Moshin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.

Keeble, Arin. The 9/11 Novel: Trauma, Politics and Identity. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. Print.

Nair, Mira. The Reluctant Fundamentalist: From Book to Film. London, UK: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Randall, Michael. 9/11 and the Literature of Terror. Edinburg, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. Print.

Schlesinger, Keren. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Insight Publications, 2010. Kilda, VIC: Print.

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