The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Changez notes that the Stranger has noticed that the waiter is walking close behind them as they make their way to the Stranger’s hotel. Changez urges the Stranger to concentrate instead on the architecture of Lahore. He points out the family-owned businesses as they walk, but he admits the Stranger is right that the gun store is not family owned. Changez criticizes the recent buildings, and compares the walk he and the Stranger are taking to Ichabod Crane’s in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He observes that the Stranger dislikes this comparison and seems nervous, so he changes the subject.
The waiter may be following the Stranger, and so Changez’s suggestion that the Stranger ignore him only makes him more anxious. The proximity of gun stores further builds the mood of danger. It’s unclear how aware Changez is of the effect his words have on the Stranger. The reference to Ichabod Crane is interesting, as Ichabod believed he was being followed by a ghost meaning him harm, but in the story it is implied, without ever being said outright, that in fact the “Headless Horseman” was another man playing a prank. The same uncertainty about the nature of those following is at play here.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez arrives in Pakistan, and finds himself unable to stop thinking about Erica. He imagines what it would be like if she came to live in Pakistan while he taught classes. He also finds himself seeing objects in the way Erica would see them, noting the beauty in small, insignificant things. Changez pays to receive the Princeton alumni magazine in case they publish news about Erica’s manuscript, and sends Erica letters that are always returned unopened. He realizes that Erica has changed him deeply, and points out that the Stranger is looking at him as if he’s insane.
Changez may have given up on the United States, but he can’t deny that his time in America has changed who he is. By the same token, he accepts that he and Erica will never be together, but he continues to love her, and recognizes the huge influence she’s had on his personality. Changez tries to explain himself to the Stranger, but based on the Stranger’s expression, he believes that he has failed.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez’s brother marries soon after Changez arrives in Pakistan, which leads his parents to wonder about his romantic prospects. His mother asks him if he is gay, but though he says he is not he doesn’t tell her about Erica. He assures the Stranger that he doesn’t really expect Erica to come back to life, but also that he doesn’t feel any need to marry another person.
That Changez’s parents think he might be gay reinforces how much of an outsider he’s become in his own society as well as in America. Changez’s obsession with Erica mirrors Erica’s obsession with Chris. In the past, Changez has criticized America for its nostalgia for a mythic past; here, he seems to be guilty of exactly this nostalgia, even if he denies it.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez observes that the Stranger seems anxious, and assures him that the loud sound they’ve just heard is not a gunshot, but merely a motor starting. The Stranger seems to point out that there are people following them; Changez acknowledges that there are people behind him, and denies that he is signaling them; he adds that the people following them may be as frightened as the Stranger is. The Stranger sends a text message, and Changez points out that since they’re near the hotel, he should finish his story quickly.
So far, the Stranger has been unsettled by things he sees -- things which Changez explains away, often by citing Pakistani custom. Now that the Stranger hears an unsettling sound, Changez's explanation is even less convincing; there are many reasons why the waiter might seem angry with the Stranger, but only so many sounds that resemble a gunshot. Changez's insistence that he doesn't know the group walking behind them only suggests that he does know them. At the same time, he raises the possibility that the group is as afraid of the Stranger as he is of them; this implies that the group, and perhaps Changez, too, is no threat to the Stranger, or is following in order to protect Changez from the Stranger. It is irritating that Changez rushes the end of his story; The Reluctant Fundamentalist has been a novel about a young man who grows up, but Changez seems to be unconcerned with explaining what he has grown up to be in much depth. Perhaps, though, this is because he doesn’t know yet. Perhaps, in fact, this encounter with the Stranger will help to determine who Changez becomes.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
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The tensions between India and Pakistan increase, and international businesses begin to leave Pakistan. The war in Iraq is about to begin. Changez notes that the common thread of both conflicts is America’s war against terrorists. Terrorists, he observes, are merely non-American allies.
Changez paints a picture of the dividing line between America and the rest of the world; according to the United States, anyone who doesn't support their war on terror must be a terrorist. Since Changez criticizes America and its foreign policy, he falls under this definition of terrorist. The point Changez seems to be making is that it doesn’t matter what he does; America has already made him a terrorist.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez gets a job lecturing at a university. His training at Princeton and Underwood Samson makes him an excellent, popular teacher. He begins to lead protests against the United States, and his demonstrations get him thrown in jail and beaten up. His arrest makes him even more popular with political-minded students. He devotes long hours to mentoring these students.
Changez acts the part of a double agent— he learns American business strategies, and then uses them to teach Pakistan to fight American imperialism. His devotion to opposing the United States is obvious, making it plausible that he uses violence to do so.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez admits that not all of his students are perfect, but assures the Stranger that he does not condone or encourages violent behavior of any kind. He remembers a student of his who was arrested recently for plotting to assassinate an American official who was involved in sending aid to Pakistan’s poor. Changez notes that the Stranger seems not to believe him, but he maintains that he is telling the truth.
Changez’s insistence that he doesn’t use or encourage violence may or may not be true. It’s impossible to know. At the same time, it’s not clear what Changez’s student accomplishes, and in fact, he may have hurt Pakistan by killing the welfare official. Changez may not support such pointless acts, though it’s possible that he does. In either case, whatever connection has grown between Changez and the Stranger is disappearing rapidly; the Stranger refuses to believe Changez.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Changez realizes that he may have turned to politics because he wanted to draw attention to himself in an irrational attempt to win Erica’s attention. His friends and colleagues warn him that America might send someone to intimidate him or hurt him, and he muses to the Stranger that he has been expecting someone to come for him.
Changez reveals that in a sense, he’s still in love with Erica, and implies that he may have turned to opposing America (either violently or peacefully) because of Erica. More generally, this suggests that America has created Changez the anti-American activist: it has used him, scapegoated him, made him feel lost in the world by separating him from his home country, then revoked his visa and sent him back to Pakistan. Changez reveals why he has seemed to know who the Stranger is and what his mission is all along — he has been expecting an American secret agent to come for him.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notes that the Stranger appears not to be listening to his story. Instead, he is looking over his shoulder at the group of people, including the waiter, following them. Changez admits that the waiter looks grim, but assures the Stranger that no one means him harm. He adds that the Stranger shouldn’t assume that all Pakistani people are terrorists, just as he, Changez, shouldn’t assume that all Americans are spies. Changez says that he and the Stranger must say goodbye, and points out that the waiter is shouting to tell him to detain the Stranger. He notices that the Stranger has again buried his hand in his jacket. He remarks that he and the Stranger are intimate, and hopes that the Stranger is only reaching for his business cards.
This final scene is highly open to interpretation, and captures the ways that the Stranger and Changez and the other Pakistani’s in the group following might fall prey to misinterpretation of each other. Changez has told his life story to the Stranger; the Stranger, who may possibly by a spy, may or may not believe that story. Meanwhile, the people following Changez may be following in order to attack the Stranger, or to protect Changez from the Stranger. And the Stranger may himself be trying to decide whether he should attack Changez or not, while Changez may be trying to determine the same thing about what he should do to the Stranger. By creating this moment of interpretation and misinterpretation, in which it is impossible for the characters or the reader to know the truth, in which Changez has told a story that implicates the United States in creating its own enemies out of people who loved it, Hamid plunges the reader into an experience that is almost real-world in its complexity, and that merges the themes of human connection, racism and fundamentalism, coming of age, and American imperialism in a single defining moment. Changez and the Stranger each have their histories up this point, now in this moment they will act, and that act will define them, as friends, as a spy, as a terrorist. That the novel ends before this act of becoming takes place forces the reader to grapple with all of these complex strands, to recognize that the American vs. Terrorist dichotomy imagined by Americans is not so simple, that terrorists and friends are made in moments like this, and the balance between the two can be vanishingly slight.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon