The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Stranger has noticed the scar on Changez’s arm, Changez says. The scar, which is darker but also smoother than his skin, looks something like a rope burn. Changez says that the Stranger must be wondering what kind of training camp could have given him this mark, but he reassures the Stranger that the scar actually comes from a childhood accident. During Pakistan’s frequent blackouts, Changez’s family would light its home with candles; once, Changez grabbed a candle and spilled molten wax on his arm.
Changez’s scar is smooth, a traditional mark of innocence, and dark, a supposed mark of evil. In this way, his scar encapsulates the way he seems to the Stranger: his comments could be taken either as innocent or sinister. Changez’s explanation of his scar is a perfect example: the Stranger can either take Changez at his word, or believe that Changez has been involved in violence.
Themes
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As the sun sets, the merchants selling their products in the outdoor market turn on colorful electric lights, prompting Changez to remember the colors of the Empire State Building at night. While he works for Underwood Samson, he explores the city at night with Erica as his guide.
Changez continues to find connections between Pakistan and his memories of New York. These connections are usually so forced that it’s difficult to tell why he is bothering to make them. It could be that Changez is trying to put the Stranger at ease by linking everything to the United States, or that he is desperate to tell someone about his time there. It could also be that Changez is deliberately stalling for time, though we don’t know exactly why.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez’s first New York encounter with Erica takes place at her apartment on the posh Upper East Side. Unsure of what to wear, Changez opts for white Pakistani robes and a pair of jeans, reasoning that foreigners aren’t strictly scrutinized for breaking the rules of etiquette in America. Even in Pakistani clothing, he feels comfortable on the subway to Erica’s house — the only attention of any kind that he receives is eye contact from a flirtatious gay man.
As a foreigner in New York, Changez is able to avoid attention, as he does on the subway, or use the different standards for foreigners to his advantage, as he does when he’s dressing himself. His brief encounter with a gay man on the subway implies that he might be gay himself, or that he seems like an outsider to other outsider groups.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Erica welcomes Changez to her family’s apartment, located on the top floor of the building. Changez notices that she looks fit and beautiful. She compliments Changez on his clothes, though she’s only wearing a casual T-shirt, and shows him her enormous room, in which, he guesses, she’s lived her entire life. Changez feels at home in this new place, partly because he’s had to change locations so often in the last four years, and the sight of a long-term home is comforting. He also notes that Erica’s home is the socioeconomic equal of the one in which he grew up.
Changez has worried too much about what to wear, indicating that he’s still a little too formal to fit in in America. In the same way that Erica admires Changez for having a peaceful home despite seeming to have one herself, Changez admires the peacefulness of Erica’s home, even though he has a home to go back to whenever he wants. The connection between Erica and Changez is strengthening.
Themes
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Erica shows Changez an envelope containing a manuscript that she plans to send to an agent tomorrow. She admits that it has been finished since before they traveled to Greece, and compares herself to an oyster: she’s dealt with the painful grain of sand inside her by transforming it into a pearl, but now, she’s reluctant to let it leave. Changez is flattered that Erica is telling him such personal information, but also notices for the first that Erica seems somehow “broken,” and wonders what the grain of sand she refers to was. Even so, he doesn’t pry, recognizing that Erica will tell him this information when she’s ready.
The “grain of sand” analogy that Erica articulates is a hint that she continues to experience pain from events that happened in the past, to the point where she’s come to need and even love her pain: she sees something beautiful as coming from that pain. Changez is respectful enough not to ask Erica what pains her; this is partly what Erica likes about him, though it also means that she remains unchallenged in her obsession with her idealized past. For the time being, Erica demonstrates that she trusts Changez and feels comfortable around him.
Themes
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Changez notices a sketch hanging on the wall in Erica’s room; Erica explains that Chris, inspired by the Tintin comics, drew it when he was a child. Changez is reminded of Pakistani miniature paintings.
Erica surrounds herself with relics of Chris, including the drawing and the blue shirt she wore in Greece. Changez tries to find a connection between the drawing and his own experiences, evidence of his desire to find a connection with Erica.
Themes
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Erica shows Changez the rest of her apartment, including a terrace with a beautiful view of the city, and introduces him to her parents. Regarding Changez, Erica’s mother tells her “Very nice.” Changez can tell immediately that her father is an important businessman. He asks Changez if he drinks, and remembers that a Pakistani man who once worked for him never drank; Changez assures him that he does.
Erica’s parents’ aren’t openly rude to Changez, but they seem to treat him differently than they would if he were white. Erica’s mother appraises him as if he’s an object, not a person. Erica’s father immediately assumes that Changez is different because he’s Pakistani, though Changez is eager to show him that they are alike.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Back in Lahore, Changez explains to the Stranger that the attitude toward alcohol in Pakistan is roughly similar to the attitude toward marijuana in the United States: it’s illegal, but still popular and available. In Pakistani culture, drunkenness is an important social state. It may be a sin to drink alcohol, but then again, Changez observes, so is coveting thy neighbor’s wife. The Stranger smiles.
Changez tries to help the Stranger understand a foreign culture. Pakistani culture, he explains, isn’t as strict and authoritarian as an American might believe. There are sins, but everyone is also human, and everyone understands this. That the Stranger smiles supports this idea of everybody understanding that everyone is human, and of that being a potential common bond between people.
Themes
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For the most part, Changez’s meal with Erica’s family goes well. One awkward moment comes when Erica’s father asks Changez about Pakistan, and says that the elite have raped their own home and that Pakistan has a problem with fundamentalism. Though irritated by Erica’s father’s condescending and quintessentially American tone, Changez forces himself to respond politely, assuring him that his family lives there, and that the situation isn’t as bad as it seems.
Changez’s irritation is an early sign that he is beginning to dislike the United States, although for the time being he doesn’t show or even entirely recognize his feelings. The facile way Erica’s father dismisses Changez’s country represents exactly the kind of easy generalizing about Pakistan that Changez rejects when he speaks to the Stranger.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
After dinner, Erica and Changez travel downtown to Chelsea to attend a party at an art gallery. Even though their cab driver is Pakistani, and Changez would ordinarily talk to him, he doesn’t do so. Erica tells Changez that she hopes he isn’t upset about her father. Changez denies being upset at all, but Erica laughs, and says that he’s a bad liar, and touchy about his homeland. Changez admits to being annoyed, and apologizes to Erica, but Erica tells him that she likes that he cares about something.
Just as Pakistan can’t be reduced to a blanket statement, the people of the United States cannot be characterized as condescending: some, like Erica’s father, are, while others, like Erica, appear not to be. Changez admits his feelings to Erica, showing that he trusts her.
Themes
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
At the gallery, Changez experiences the trendy, minimalist styles of New York City. Mingling with artists in “outrageous” clothing, he feels relieved that he’s wearing Pakistani robes. Erica is surrounded by friends, and Changez is reminded of her magnetic personality. At the end of the night, she kisses Changez on the cheek and thanks him. Changez is puzzled, both because he thinks that he should thank her, and because he feels as if he’s spent an intimate evening with her, even though they barely spoke.
For now, New York continues to be a welcoming place for Changez; he doesn’t feel out of place in his traditional clothing. He feels closer than ever to Erica, even though they don’t speak much at the gallery. Changez also begins to notice that Erica feels the same connection to him.
Themes
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Changez accompanies Erica to parties, restaurants, and galleries, but always with other friends. He notices that she seems most thoughtful when she is surrounded by others, and compares her to a child who can only sleep with the lights on. While they don’t talk to each other very often, Changez thinks that he is developing a personal relationship with Erica. At the end of every night, she kisses him on the cheek — each time, Changez thinks, she holds the kiss for a fraction of a second longer.
Changez notices more signs that Erica feels close to him. Still, it isn’t clear if Erica actually holds her kiss for a little longer each time, or if Changez imagines it. Changez also begins to see Erica’s loneliness. The friends she attracts seem almost like a defense she uses, though Changez cannot tell what she’s defending against.
Themes
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The weekend before Changez leaves for the Philippines to assist Underwood Samson with the music business, Erica invites him on a picnic; he’s pleased to find that they’re alone. Erica tells him that she and Chris used to go on picnics, but after he died, she stopped picnicking, communicating, or eating, and had to go to the hospital. Her parents encouraged her to forget about Chris and take medication, and since the summer took up most of her hospital time, she was able to return to Princeton in the fall and complete her senior year. Changez is sorry for Erica, and feels as if she is a part of his family. Amazed that someone so physically strong and healthy can be so deeply unhappy, he puts his arm around her, a gesture he thinks about often during his weeks to come in the Philippines.
At the picnic, Changez finally comes to understand the source of Erica’s melancholy and loneliness: Chris’s death drove her into depression. Ironically, Erica’s parents’ insistence that she forget about Chris seems to have guaranteed that she remember him. Like Changez, Erica is adept at disguising her true feelings — while she’s at Princeton she manages to conceal her hospitalization. Perhaps connecting with this aspect of her depression, Changez feels close enough with Erica to touch her. It’s the same gesture that Mike used to flirt with Erica in Greece, except that Changez seems to have earned the right to use it.
Themes
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While Changez is telling the Stranger about Erica, the lights suddenly go out in the café. The Stranger jumps to his feet, but Changez insists that he calm himself; blackouts are common in Pakistan. Changez says that he can clearly see the Stranger reaching into his jacket, and tells him that there’s no need to be afraid of pickpockets stealing his wallet. When the Stranger remains standing, Changez stands as well.
Prior to the blackout, the Stranger had seemed to be relaxing and enjoying Changez’s story. In the dark, he is anxious once again; the way he keeps reaching into his jacket suggests that he’s concealing something from Changez—perhaps a gun, or perhaps he’s just making sure he still has his wallet. The way Changez and Stranger each refuse to sit during the blackout indicates that, in spite of their time together, they still regard each other as adversaries.
Themes
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The lights return as suddenly as they disappeared. Changez scolds the Stranger for jumping up so quickly, as if he were a mouse about to eaten by a hawk. He offers the Stranger a Jack Daniels to sooth his nerves, but then, after observing that the Stranger is smiling, he reveals that in fact the only American drinks in the café are sodas. Changez summons the waiter.
Changez’s comparison between the Stranger and a mouse is both humorous and sinister: it’s impossible to tell whether he was planning to ambush the Stranger during the blackout or not. When he offers the Stranger whiskey and then revokes the offer, Changez seems both polite and aggressive — a combination that is far more sinister than aggression by itself. If nothing else, Changez’s offer seems to confirm that the Stranger really is American — this may have been Changez’s goal.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon