The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Changez tells the Stranger that he seems uncomfortable, and compares the way he looks around the café to the behavior of an animal that isn’t sure if it’s predator or prey. He encourages the Stranger to relax and observe Old Anarkali in the afternoon. The gates at either end of the market are being locked, he observes, meaning that no vehicles can enter or exit the area. Although in the newer parts of Lahore, it’s better to be in a vehicle than on foot, here, where the streets are usually full of traffic, it’s far more convenient to walk. The Stranger seems to compare Old Anarkali to Manhattan, and Changez seizes the opportunity to continue telling him about his early days in New York.
Changez’s comparison seems to heighten the Stranger’s anxiety instead of dissipating it. Similarly, his description of the market can be interpreted as alarming instead of relaxing — following Changez’s animal analogy, it’s as if the Stranger is now trapped in a cage. Changez’s observation that walking is better than riding in a car in Old Anarkali reinforces that the Stranger, from the rich, technologically-advanced United States, is out of his element—technology won’t do him much good in Pakistan.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
At first, Changez finds New York City to be almost like home, since the cab drivers speak Urdu, it’s easy to find Pakistani food near his apartment in the East Village, and the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Association sometimes marches through his neighborhood. When he walks through the street or takes the subway, he doesn’t seem out of place; indeed, tourists often ask him for directions. In general, he feels like a New Yorker, not an American. The Stranger points out that Changez’s voice is rising; Changez explains that he is often sentimental about Manhattan, even though he only lived there for eight months.
Changez makes several mentions of homoeroticism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It could be that Changez is gay, or simply that he notices and identifies with other outsider groups in America. Changez distinguishes sharply between New York specifically and the United States in general, almost as if he’s since become disillusioned with America but still remembers specific people and events fondly. Though it’s still difficult to tell what the Stranger does and does not do, it seems as if he’s becoming more invested in Changez’s story, asking questions and commenting on his tone.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
On his first day at Underwood Samson, Changez is overwhelmed by the view from the lobby, located high in a skyscraper. America is truly the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet, he thinks. At times, he is shamed and saddened by the disparity between his homeland and the United States. Thousands of years ago, Pakistan had sophisticated cities, while the Western world was barbaric; in the 21st century, the tables have turned, and the West is powerful while Pakistan’s cities are dirty and unplanned. In spite of his occasional shame about his country, Changez doesn’t feel Pakistani on his first day at Underwood Samson — he feels proud to be a part of such a prestigious company.
As a Pakistani man in the United States, Changez alternates between identifying with his native and his adopted country. Ironically, working for Underwood Samson (which, by the way, shares initials with the United States) makes him feel like more of an American, but also more of an outsider. He feels as if he’s representing his entire country, even though he’s made it clear that he’s not a very representative member of Pakistani society. On his first day at Underwood Samson, though, he feels like an American.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Sherman, one of Underwood Samson’s vice presidents, explains to Changez and the five other new employees that Underwood Samson is a meritocracy. The trainees have been recruited from excellent schools and chosen for their huge potential. At Underwood Samson, they’ll be ranked every six months, and low-ranked employees will be fired. Changez notices that the other trainees sit up very straight, except for one named Wainwright, who slouches and makes jokes. Changez and Wainwright soon bond over their love of also .
Sherman’s explanation of the “rules” at Underwood Samson sounds like the American dream at its finest, promising that talent and determination will always be rewarded, and nothing else (race, background, etc) matters. Always an observer, Changez tends to bond with other people who seem out of place, in this case, Wainwright. Even though their connection is based on feeling out of place in America, Wainwright and Changez bond over American pop culture.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
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For the next few months, Changez, Wainwright, and the other trainees take complicated classes designed to give them a year’s worth of business knowledge: computer programs, personal skills, negotiation tactics. The instructors are excellent, and the trainees are tested constantly on their new knowledge. Back in Lahore, Changez says that the Stranger seems impressed with the training program. He comments that Underwood Samson exemplified the professionalism that has made America successful in many different fields: trainees are encouraged to be creative but also efficient.
Changez’s detailed descriptions of his training reflect Hamid’s real-life experiences as a young man in the world of New York finance. The training seems to honor Sherman’s promise of meritocracy. The Stranger’s apparent admiration for Underwood Samson suggests his personal experience with similarly strict training. The parallels between Underwood Samson and the United States become more explicit: both appear to be strict meritocracies whose combination of efficiency and spirit make them hugely successful.
Themes
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez enjoys the excitement of his financial training. He also feels especially powerful when the firm gives him an expense account — essentially, a promise from Underwood Samson that the company will pay for anything Changez purchases, as long as it relates to business somehow. Suddenly, Changez has access to more money than he ever did in Pakistan or at Princeton. He also notices that his colleagues are diverse and yet alike in many ways. Two of the six new trainees are women, and two, Changez and Wainwright, are non-white. Still, all six are graduates of top-tier American universities, tall, and physically fit. The only other trainee who seems even slightly uneasy with these arrangements is Wainwright, who worries, mostly jokingly, about going over to “the dark side.” Even so, he, Changez, and the other trainees are happy to be working for Underwood Samson, and toast their new careers with expensive champagne.
Changez begins to enjoy the luxuries of a high-paying job, luxuries with which he’s had little familiarity up to this point in his life. Underwood Samson is changing his life, apparently for the better. However, Changez begins to notice also that Underwood Samson isn’t as meritocratic as Sherman promised. His colleagues are intelligent and fairly diverse, but still seem to have been selected for other, more arbitrary qualities, such as their looks. As a person of color in a largely white environment, Changez is particularly conscious of the limits of supposed diversity, as is Wainwright, the other non-white trainee. But even if Changez has some doubts about Underwood Samson, they are gathering very slowly — for now, he is proud to be there.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Later that night, Changez and Wainwright, having gotten drunk with the other trainees on Underwood Samson’s dollar, share a cab back to their homes. They talk about cricket: Wainwright admits that he doesn’t enjoy the game much, and Changez says that the Pakistani team isn’t as good as it used to be. Changez also learns that Wainwright’s father is from Barbados.
The game Wainwright and Changez bond over, cricket, is a remnant of British colonial rule. By laughing at how dull the game is, and how poor their countries’ teams have become, Wainwright and Changez are implicitly laughing at the decline of Western imperialism in their native countries, and bonding over their shared non-Western identity.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Wainwright and Changez are hungry, so they go to the Punjab deli where Changez received a free meal that morning. Speaking Urdu, Changez greets the man who gave him his food, and asks if he ever goes home — not enough, the man replies. Changez insists on paying for his food this time, adding that he has an expense account, but the man apologizes and says that he doesn’t accept American Express. As the other customers watch in amusement, Wainwright offers to pay for both of their meals in cash, which impresses Changez, since in Pakistan it’s a mark of true friendship to buy someone else food. He senses that he’s found a kindred spirit at Underwood Samson.
Even as Changez finds a good friend at Underwood Samson, he begins, very slowly, to alienate the people with whom he once felt a strong connection. From the beginning of his first day to the end, Changez has gone from nervous and humble to proud and a little arrogant. When he first finds the Punjab deli, he feels at home; now, the other customers regard him as a wealthy outsider, not one of them.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
In Lahore, Changez asks the Stranger why he is recoiling from the beggar soliciting him for money, and wonders aloud what accident could have disfigured the beggar so horribly. The Stranger gives the beggar nothing, and Changez says that he’s right to refuse — it’s better to give to charities, since they address the sources of poverty. Changez gives the beggar money anyway, and the beggar responds by, according to Changez, offering them both his prayers.
Though he uses the word “accident,” Changez may be speaking sarcastically, since the beggar might have been injured by an American-sanctioned bombing. Though we cannot know for sure, the sinister or sarcastic undertones of Changez’s comments to the Stranger are beginning to add up, and it’s hard not to hear his contempt for the Stranger’s miserliness, even as he compliments the Stranger for it.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
In the following weeks of training, Changez begins sizing up his new colleagues. Wainwright is laid back, funny, popular, and a clear contender for first place in the all-important rankings. Changez, using his training in competitive sports, works hard to succeed, getting only a few hours of sleep a night. He’s pleased to find that his formality impresses his supervisors, instead of alienating them, as it sometimes did at Princeton. He tells the Stranger that his accent, which sounds English, may have given him an advantage at Underwood Samson, since American, like Pakistan, is an English colony, meaning that English accents still symbolize power. He also thinks that his Pakistani upbringing trained him to treat his bosses with respect and courtesy. In either case, he concludes, being foreign was an advantage at Underwood Samson.
Changez begins to feel more at home than he ever has in the United States. His politeness and concentration made him seem unusual at Princeton, but here, they are assets. Even so, Changez experiences much of the same treatment that he experienced in college. His colleagues continue to regard him as unique and sophisticated simply because he’s from another country, not because of his work. Once again, Changez is conscious of his peers expecting him to behave in a certain way, but for now, he is happy to meet their expectations.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notices signals that he is doing well at Underwood Samson. When it’s time for the company’s yearly summer party, Changez and Wainwright ride in a limousine with Jim, who is hosting the party at his house in the Hamptons, while most of the other trainees ride with Sherman, Jim’s junior at work. During the ride, everyone is talkative, except for Jim and Changez. Jim tells Changez that they’re both watchful people, a quality which comes from being out of place.
Changez and Wainwright’s success at Underwood Samson seems to indicate that meritocracy is strong: there is no apparent bias against people of color. Jim tries to establish a connection with Changez based on their shared experiences, yet he knows almost nothing about Changez except that he attended Princeton on financial aid.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Jim’s party is extremely luxurious. While Wainwright enjoys himself, Changez steps outside and watches the waves crash on the beach. He thinks how strange it is that, only a few months ago, he had never seen the sea, whereas now it’s a part of the yearly routine of working for Underwood Samson.
Even as a young man, Changez shows signs of the self-awareness and thoughtfulness he displays around the Stranger. At this point in his career, all the changes Underwood Samson has afforded him seem to be positive.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
While Changez is watching the waves, Jim approaches him, and recalls his first Underwood Samson party at the Hamptons. Jim tells Changez that he felt out of place, but eager to acquire the luxury he saw. Changez says that he knows what Jim means, and Jim pats him on the back and leads him inside for food. Later that evening, though, Changez thinks of Erica, and wishes that she were at the party with him. He imagines that even she would be impressed by Jim’s house.
Jim shows some signs of being romantically interested in Changez, such as touching his back and approaching him while he’s alone at a party (much as Changez attempted to do with Erica in Greece). Jim’s desire for wealth and power made him successful; he feels close to Changez because he thinks that Changez desires these things, too. But Changez doesn’t seem obsessed with luxury; when Jim meets him, he’s staring at the sea, not the house, and thinking about his past, not his future. Even when Changez thinks of Erica, he thinks she would be impressed with the house — not that he is.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
When the analyst training program ends, Changez learns from Jim that he is ranked first in his class, and that his instructors admire his drive and energy. Jim advises Changez to nurture these qualities, and invites him to be part of a new project he’s working on, which involves a music business in the Philippines. Changez, happy with his performance, meets Wainwright, who is happy to have finished second in his class, and had already assumed Changez would be first.
Changez’s training evaluation represents the height of his happiness at Underwood Samson. He has a mentor in Jim, who continues to believe that he and Changez are alike, and a loyal friend in Wainwright, who isn’t at all disappointed to be ranked second. Yet Changez is still unprepared to make his own choices. When Jim asks him to go to the Philippines, he agrees, just as he’s agreed to go to Princeton and Greece: because he wants to please others. It will be a long time before Changez is ready to follow his own path.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
While he was overjoyed at the time, Changez tells the Stranger, his world would soon change. He encourages the Stranger to notice how quickly the streets have transformed into a market, and observes that, if they hadn’t been sitting at the café for so long, they might think that Old Anarkali always looked this way. Because they know the area’s “recent history,” they can better understand the way it looks now.
When Changez comments on the appearance of the market, he is talking about himself. By understanding Changez’s recent history, including his time in Princeton and Greece, the Stranger can get a better grasp on the kind of person he is. While the Stranger doesn’t yet know what the sudden change in Changez’s life will be, he can only appreciate how sudden this change is by learning something about Changez’s life up to this point.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon