9/11 changes everything for Changez, the ambitious protagonist of Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist. Soon after the towers fall, Changez’ world begins to deteriorate. His relationship with Erica, a beautiful and rich American, unravels and his focus moves away from the “fundamentals” and toward the new and terrifying global landscape. As shown throughout the text, Changez’s impressive suit and well-paying job are unable shield him from anti-Muslim bigotry. In the wake of 9/11, it seems that Changez is always being harassed. When working in New Jersey, his possessions are stolen and his car is ravaged. Changez’s skin and religion have become a liability in this new world order.
When speaking about these changes, Changez uses the language of a conquered person. His tone becomes accusatory as he relays this experience to his American guest: “Your country’s flag invaded New York after the attacks. It was everywhere”(Hamid 38). From this one line, it becomes very clear that Changez has mentally separated New York from America. For Changez, New York is its own nation—socially and politically distinct from the rest of the country. Thus, the proliferation of the American flag across the New York landscape feels like an invasion. “They [The flags] all seemed to proclaim: We are America, Not New York,”says Changez (Hamid 38). The place where Changez had felt at home suddenly became American; thus, inhospitable to the multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism he associated with New York.
Changez’s relationship with Erica parallels his relationship with the United States. At first infatuated, Changez comes to recognize the dark underbelly beneath the shiny exterior. In the text, Erica’s dangerous nostalgia is compared to America’s post 9/11 nostalgia.
“There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always though of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time, I was struck by its determination to look back” (Mohsin 53).
The reader witnesses the gradual degeneration of Changez’s American dream. For Changez, America was supposed to be about the future. That is what his boss Jim always pointed toward.Yet, Changez views Americans pining for times that shouldn’t necessarily be exalted. He questions whether America should try to replicate the unquestioned dominance and safety that marked its past. As he soon realizes, the past being romanticized does not include or care for a Muslim immigrant originally hailing from Pakistan.
As Changez becomes increasingly disillusioned with the United States, his attention becomes squarely focused on his homeland. During his last assignment in Chile, he barely expends any effort, leaving his superior to do all of the work alone. A conversation with Chilean Native Juan-Bautista acts as the final nail in the coffin. This conversation leads Changez to realize that his talents and energies should be used to benefit his true homeland instead of America, which has become foreign and strange to him. The crumbling of Changez’s American dream paves the way for a new dream and life in Pakistan.
By Kailyn Amory