The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bats begin to gather in the square; the Stranger says they’re “creepy,” a word Changez finds delightful, and highly American, though he disagrees with using it to describe the bats. As a child, Changez’s father pointed out large, bat-like creatures called flying foxes; Changez associates them with the countryside, and a way of life that can’t exist in large cities. Even so, he admits, bats have survived in the city of Lahore by being cunning and predatory — much like the Stranger and himself, he notes. By contrast, smaller winged creatures like butterflies and fireflies, or larger winged creatures like flying foxes, don’t survive in big cities because they fly into windows or large buildings.
Changez continues to imply comparisons between Pakistan and the United States. The flying creatures he names seem to correspond to the different immigrants in the United States. Some are too weak to survive, while others die because their power is actually an obstacle to success. Changez’s comparison between himself and a bat foreshadows his disillusionment with loyalty and cooperation, and his adoption of the cunning he exercises on the Stranger. The image of animals flying into large buildings also foreshadows 9/11.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez flies first-class to Manila in the Philippines. He is feeling self-satisfied, a feeling that will quickly disappear, he tells the Stranger. Changez asks the Stranger if he has traveled to the East before; the Stranger seems to acknowledge that he has, and Changez notes that the Stranger is exceptionally well-traveled. He tells the Stranger that he’s curious to learn more about the nature of his business, but, since the Stranger seems so eager to hear the rest of Changez’s story, Changez will ask him about it later.
The Stranger’s response suggests that he has quickly become confortable around Changez again. Nevertheless, his apparent reluctance to tell Changez about his business implies that he still distrusts his companion a little, or that his business by definition is something that he wants or needs to keep secret.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez expects Manila to be as run-down as Lahore, but instead finds a city with both slums and skyscrapers. He feels defeated and strangely jealous of the Philippines, since it’s a non-Western country that nonetheless outstrips Pakistan economically and technologically. For this reason, he adopts a different manner in Manila: instead of playing up his Pakistani roots, he acts as “American” as possible. Filipino businessmen seem to respect Americans almost immediately, and Changez wants to be respected, too. He becomes less polite and more insistent, even when dealing with older businessmen, and begins to say that he’s from New York, not Pakistan. The Stranger seems to ask Changez if his changed behavior made him feel guilty; Changez admits that it did, but he kept his shame to himself. In the meantime, he continued to rack up impressive reviews from his colleagues.
The way Changez can shift his manner from being “foreign” in America to being “American” in Manila shows how he exists between both worlds, and how this can both be a benefit but also means he doesn’t necessarily have a solid sense of who he is. When he is “being American,” Changez adopts the impertinent behavior that he previously criticized in his Princeton peers. The Stranger seems to ask Changez a question, indicating his renewed investment in Changez’s life story.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
The music business Underwood Samson has come to Manila to evaluate is run by a famous, colorful musician who, in spite of his hippie demeanor, claims to have become hugely successful. Changez and his colleagues set to work measuring the profitability of the company. Changez visits the music business’s factories and stores, and feels immensely powerful: by deciding how much the company is worth, he’s deciding who will be fired and who will stay.
The president of the music company has gone from hippie to businessman, suggesting the enormous influence of capitalism in recent decades. Changez begins to enjoy the power associated with his job. In this way, he becomes less respectful of others, speaking rudely to them and even fantasizing about firing them.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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One day, in a limousine, Changez notices a jeepney (a kind of public bus) driver staring at him angrily from outside the car. Changez is unsure why the man seems so furious: it could be personal; it could be because he’s jealous of Changez’s suit and limousine; it could be that he hates Americans. After the staring match is over, Changez looks at his blonde Underwood Samson colleagues and is struck by their foreignness; he feels suddenly closer to the driver than to his colleagues. Changez is so preoccupied with this incident that he finds it difficult to sleep that night. Nevertheless, he is so busy with work that in the days after he doesn’t stay up at night thinking about it any further.
Changez lists three possible reasons why the driver is angry with him; what’s more interesting is the possible reason he doesn’t list: the driver is furious that Changez, a non-Westerner, has sold out and begun working for a Western company. It’s as if Changez is becoming less self-aware as he becomes more and more powerful. Even so, his encounter with the driver makes him feel uncomfortable around his American colleagues — even after making an effort to become American, he still identifies with non-Americans.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez receives many emails from Erica during his time in Manila. The messages, which Changez treasures and looks forward to, are usually short and succinct — in one of these messages, Erica mentions the beauty of tide pools, which seem to be frozen in time. While it may seem odd to derive so much pleasure from such a simple note, Changez admits to the Stranger, his upbringing in Lahore, during which he was often forbidden to see his girlfriends for long, has trained him to enjoy the denial of contact.
Erica’s obsession with tide pools suggests her reluctant to move on quickly from Chris’s death. Changez’s enjoyment of Erica’s emails confirms the influence of his Pakistani upbringing: even when he’s surrounded by American businessmen, his non-American roots remain strong.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
At the end of Changez’s time in Manila, Jim flies in to evaluate his work. Jim tells Changez that his work is excellent, but he’s working too hard. When Changez insists that he gets plenty of rest, Jim candidly tells Changez that he admires his determination, and remembers that Underwood Samson encouraged him to get more rest when he started out. Jim adds that, like Changez, he never admitted that he felt as if he didn’t belong in the world of high finance. Changez, uncertain how to answer without embarrassing either Jim or himself, asks Jim why he felt like he didn’t belong. Jim responds that he grew up “dirt poor,” and that his father died of gangrene. Television gave him an idea of what it was like to be wealthy, but he continues to treat the trappings of wealth with skepticism and disdain.
With every encounter between Jim and Changez, Jim becomes surer that he and Changez are alike. At the same time, Jim seems indifferent to Changez’s thoughts and feelings — he has no idea, for instance, that Changez feels guilty about acting American — and so his connection to Changez seems very superficial. Jim insists that he treats wealth and power with skepticism, even though at the summer party he told Changez that he desired these things as a young man. It’s also important that Jim notes the role of television in fostering his ambition —pop culture and entertainment are crucial in furthering America’s business power throughout the world.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez tries to connect with Jim’s sense of outsiderness. Though he didn’t grow up in poverty, he felt a longing for the prosperity his family had in previous generations. Other members of Changez’s family felt a similar sense of a longing: nostalgia. On many occasions, his family’s nostalgia led to debt, alcoholism, and suicide. Thus, he feels a connection with Jim: they were both conscious of their family’s fortunes, though Jim’s family’s situation was meager, while Changez’s was still in the process of declining. Jim puts his arm around Changez’s chair, and Changez enjoys the feeling of sitting with him, both because he thinks that Jim likes him, and because he enjoys the attention Jim receives from the staff of the hotel where he is staying.
Changez is eager to feel a connection to Jim, and so he focuses on what he and Jim have in common, not their differences. While the sense of nostalgia he names is destructive, leading to death and debt — it resembles Erica’s nostalgia for Chris. Jim’s behavior around Changez is homoerotic once again — it’s the same gesture Mike uses to flirt with Erica, and it’s the same gesture Changez uses to show his affection for Erica in the park. Changez seems unaware of any romantic interest on Jim’s part, and enjoys the sense of power Jim’s friendship affords him.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez hesitates to continue telling the Stranger about his experiences; he says that he is afraid that what he says next will offend the Stranger. The Stranger seems to ask Changez to continue. Before he does, Changez asks the Stranger if he’d like another soda, and, when he seems to decline, signals the waiter, supposedly to bring Changez a bottle. The waiter arrives very promptly.
Changez asks the Stranger if he should continue, even though he seems to have decided to continue already. The return of the waiter reminds us that he is paying close attention to Changez and the Stranger, and that the Stranger still seems to be on his guard.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
On his final evening in the Philippines, Changez turns on the television and sees what he thinks at first is a film, but is actually the collapse of the Twin Towers — it is September 11, 2001. Changez’s initial reaction is to smile. The Stranger seems disgusted by this information, Changez notes: his fist is clenched. Changez insists that he is no sociopath: he’s sympathetic to the sick and injured, and he donates to the poor. Even he acknowledges that his reaction to 9/11 was unusual, and says that he is still trying to understand it himself. Changez explains that he thought of the attack’s symbolism, rather than its victims. He is pleased that someone has succeeded in attacking the United States. Changez now observes that the Stranger looks more displeased than ever. He asks the Stranger, if he can honestly say that he’s never been happy while looking at TV footage of foreign lands being bombed by American forces. The Stranger responds that America is at war. Changez admits that the Stranger has a point — Changez was not at war with American while working for Underwood Samson. On the contrary, he was enjoying the best that America had to offer.
Changez’s feelings of satisfaction at the destruction of the towers demonstrates that he still considers himself an outsider in the United States, or perhaps even that he didn’t realize how much resentment he felt toward the powerful United States for its affect on the world and on Changez himself until this moment. At the same time, his memories of 9/11 seem calculated to enrage the Stranger, and his insistence that he donates to the poor echoes his sarcasm when the Stranger refused to give the beggar money. Similarly, his comparison between footage of 9/11 and the Middle East seems to expose American hypocrisy. At the same time, Changez also seems genuinely confused by his reaction, and wants to talk it out with the Stranger. He admits that he had no rational reason to hate American, since he was wealthy and content, and finds it hard to put into words why he had the reaction he did. The Stranger’s insistence that America is at war may be another clue to his identity.
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
When Changez meets other members of Underwood Samson, he initially pretends to be shocked and upset about the attacks. But soon, he begins to think of Erica, and he no longer has to feign emotion. He is worried that Erica might have been near Ground Zero, and finds it difficult to sleep for days.
Changez feels uncomfortable with America as a whole, but he still feels great affection for individual people, none more so than Erica.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
The Underwood Samson team is unable to fly back to the United States because so many flights are cancelled. When Changez does eventually go to the airport to fly back to New York, armed airport guards take him to a secure room and force him to strip down to his underwear, a humiliating experience. Changez is the last person to board the flight, and when he boards it, other passengers look concerned. Changez feels guilty, and though he tries to act calm, he knows that he seems uncomfortable. Jim asks him many times if he’s all right.
After 9/11, other people’s attitude toward Changez changes overnight. When he left his foreignness was interesting to people. When he returns, he is made to strip in a secure room, and is nonetheless humiliated in front of his colleagues. Even so, it’s not yet clear if Americans will treat Changez differently, or if the change is confined to Manila. Jim’s concern for Changez would seem to suggest the latter.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
When Changez’s flight arrives in the United States, he is again separated from the other passengers. An officer asks him for the purpose of his trip to the United States. When Changez responds that he lives in America, and attempts to charm the officer, she insists on knowing the purpose of his trip. Changez is then sent to another room and forced to wait for inspection next to a handcuffed man. When the guards have finished interrogating him, Changez finds that the Underwood Samson team has not waited for him; he travels back to Manhattan alone.
When he lands in the United States, Changez quickly realizes that his adopted country has become hostile to him. He fails to use his politeness and charm to escape detainment, signaling that his old strategies for dealing with Americans no longer work. Further, that Jim looked after Changez’s feelings when they were in the Philippines but left without him in America suggests the way that Americans after 9/11 become blind to the impact of their sudden distrust of foreigners on the foreigners themselves. The abandonment also makes Changez reconsider just how much he can trust his colleagues and Underwood Sampson to support him in these new times.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez notes that the Stranger is flinching, perhaps because of the bats. Changez assures the Stranger that the bats won’t do them any harm; the Stranger replies that he knows. Changez calls the Stranger’s tone curt, and notes that the Stranger seems unsurprised by what Changez has told him so far. Changez wonders aloud why this is the case, since they’ve never met before: it may be because the Stranger has judged Changez based on his appearance; it could also be that he is a good listener, and predicts the direction Changez’s story will follow. In either case, Changez concludes, it is time for the Stranger to explain who he works for and why he is in Pakistan.
Changez’s reassurance seems calculated to annoy the Stranger rather than calm him. Perhaps in response to the Stranger’s rudeness, Changez presses the Stranger for information about himself that he is clearly reluctant to reveal. Changez demonstrates his suspicion of the Stranger by suggesting that the Stranger already knew about his detainment. Since the Stranger could only have obtained this information from a government source, this is another clue to Changez’s suspicions about the Stranger’s identity.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon