The reluctant fundamentalist

Identity is not something fixed once and for all, but rather in a state of flux. This aspect is well illustrated in The Reluctant Fundamentalist as the character of Changez (whose very name implies change) takes on different identities throughout the novel, rather than simply losing or acquiring a given one. He first becomes the quintessentially-American success immigrant story, believing in the corporate ethos of meritocracy, only to reject this condition and adopt Islamic fundamentalism. When Erica is unable to have sex with him because of her inability to forget her deceased boyfriend, Changez asks her to pretend he is him and they finally make love:

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It was as though we were under a spell, transported to a world where I was Chris and she was with Chris, and we made love with a physical intimacy that Erica and I had never enjoyed (p. 120 Penguin books paperback edition)

When Changez goes back to Pakistan for Christmas in Chapter 9, although his transition to fundamentalism has already become, he still detects “the Americanness” of his own gaze in looking upon his country of birth (p. 140). He is ashamed of the place where he comes from as “it smacked of lowliness” and becomes aware that he has changed (p.141). However, as he goes back to the U.S., he is unable to leave Pakistan behind and begins to grow a beard as a sign of personal difference. He also starts to neglect his work as he is absorbed in the increasing deterioration of diplomatic relationships between India and Pakistan and what looks like an inevitable war. He is particularly upset by America’s

strict neutrality between the two potential combatants, a position that favored, of course, the larger and – at that moment in history – the more belligerent of them (p.163)

This leads Changez to find a common identity with those America has exercised a strict control on such as Chile where he is sent off to evaluate a publishing house in Valparaiso. In the course of this task, Changez becomes
aware that he is, in a way, fighting his own people. He then decides to resign his American identity and take on that of the fighter for the rights of his native country.

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