The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Changez notices that the Stranger is uneasy around the waiter. He acknowledges that the waiter seems intimidating, but says that this is only because he is from the mountains, where life is difficult, and because his tribe has been attacked by American soldiers in Afghanistan. The Stranger asks if the waiter is praying, and Changez replies that he is actually reading the menu. Changez orders food for himself and the Stranger.
Changez allusion to the American attacks on the waiter’s tribe both humanizes the people who are suffering under American bombardment and gives the waiter more motive for possibly disliking the Stranger. The fact that the Stranger can’t understand what the waiter is saying reinforces his isolation in Lahore; the waiter and Changez could be saying anything to each other, and he wouldn’t understand it But it also highlights the way that American’s stereotype Muslim foreigners.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Erica leaves Changez’s apartment before he wakes up; he doesn’t see her for a few days, but eventually they agree to meet at her apartment. Changez arrives, and speaks with Erica’s mother, who tells him that Erica needs stability, and a friend, not a boyfriend. Changez is alarmed by Erica’s mother’s desperate tone, and when he sees Erica, he is saddened to learn that she can’t concentrate because of her medication.
Erica’s mother wants stability for her daughter. This seems to be the opposite of what she needs — Erica has been trapped in the past for too long, and needs to move on. The medication Erica takes seems similarly counter-productive — instead of allowing her to move past Chris’s death, it makes her days dull and forces her to think back to Chris.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez asks Erica about her novel, and she begins to cry: she can’t find the energy to work on it, or even return her agent’s calls. She adds that she finds it difficult to translate her thoughts and feelings into words. Changez tries to comfort her, but Erica doesn’t respond, and when Changez leaves, he senses that he has merely interrupted a conversation between Erica and Chris. He does not see Erica for many months.
Changez feels a great distance growing between Erica and himself. While he is usually good at calming her, he finds himself powerless to make her better. The reason, it is clear, is that Erica is too in love with Chris, too lost in the past, to be accessible to Changez.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez is unable to deduce what causes Erica’s sickness, but thinks that she is suffering from a powerful nostalgia for her relationship with Chris. He feels inadequate for being unable to make Erica love him more than she loves Chris, if indeed she ever did love him. He realizes also that America, like Erica, is becoming obsessed with its own past. He wonders if America’s past was ever real, and if there is a place for him anywhere in it.
Hamid makes the link between Erica and America explicit here. Both Erica and America have become obsessed with a past that may be utterly fictitious: it’s not clear that Erica loved Chris when he was alive as much as she does when he is dead, or that America was ever the utopia patriots think it was. In the past, when Changez was uncomfortable with some aspects of America, he turned to Erica for comfort. Now, he feels out of place alongside Erica, and in America in general.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
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The Stranger’s cell phone beeps, and Changez comments that he has been called exactly every hour. While the Stranger sends a text, Changez points out the chickens roasting on the grill.
It becomes clearer that the Stranger is working for a highly organized, regimented company or organization. The sight of the chickens grilling seems to suggest an undertone of violence, or even an implied threat from Changez to the Stranger.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Irritated with the nostalgia of Erica and America, Changez turns to Underwood Samson, which is never nostalgic, since it looks to the future. Because he is desperate for certainty in an uncertain time, he focuses on the fundamentals, and, he tells the Stranger, performs his job as well as he has ever done.
Even with Erica and New York turning away from him, Changez hasn’t yet given up on the United States altogether — he focuses instead on his career, and continues to excel.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
One day, on the street, two strangers harass Changez and call him a “fucking Arab.” Changez is furious, and wants to fight them both, but they walk away. The Stranger asks Changez what the men looked like, and Changez replies that he cannot remember. He sometimes forgets the details of his own story, he tells the Stranger, just as the United States does — nevertheless, his story is more or less true.
Changez’s encounter with the two strangers suggests the growing hostility of America to foreigners — previously, Changez thought such racism would never be directed at him. The Stranger seems skeptical that Changez is telling the truth; Changez suggests that the American media distort the facts to confirm myths of American patriotism. Yet Changez also confirms that he is an unreliable narrator — that his experiences have been so powerful that they may have affected his memory of what actually happened, made is memory exaggerate what happened. In this way, the novel grapples with the way that someone’s experiences can cause them to reinterpret their past to make it better fit with their current ideas or beliefs without even realizing. Changez’s offhand comment that the US does the same thing also is meant to provoke the reader to think about the truth of that statement and the implications of it should it be true.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
One evening, Jim suggests that Changez come to his apartment. Changez notices the large number of photographs of male nudes on the walls, and learns that Jim has no wife or children. Jim asks Changez what’s on his mind, and if it has anything to do with Pakistan. Changez denies this, because he doesn’t want to make Jim think that he’s not loyal to Underwood Samson. Jim tells him that he knows what it’s like to be an outsider, and that they can talk anytime.
It’s possible that Jim is a homosexual, and interested in Changez romantically. While he’s more concerned with Changez, asking him questions instead of simply talking at him, Changez doesn’t respond to his concern, since he’s too committed to Underwood Samson. Jim’s insistence that he understands Changez becomes more implausible, even if he’s sharp enough to know that something is wrong.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez soon starts to worry that he could lose his job at Underwood Samson because he’s Pakistani. Wainwright tells him about businesses that discriminate against Muslim employees, and warns him that Underwood Samson may be firing some employees soon. Still, when he has his performance review, he learns that he is still ranked number one, and is even given a large bonus.
For the time being, Changez isn’t a victim of racism or discrimination. Still, in this environment—in which he himself has been harassed—Changez can no no longer dismiss rumors of racism by thinking that they don’t apply to the wealthy or the educated.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Changez’s happiness about his bonus is limited when he learns that Pakistan might soon go to war with India soon. In December, despite warnings from his mother and father, he flies to Pakistan to visit them, while his Underwood Sampson peers celebrate Christmas in America. On the plane, a Muslim man tells Changez that it’s God’s will whether or not the world will experience nuclear annihilation.
Changez’s finds it difficult to enjoy his work because of the danger his country and his family face. His decision to fly back during Christmas—a traditional American vacation centered on a Christian tradition—reinforces his alienation from his peers. The Muslim’s comments seem to indicate the rise of Muslim extremism in response to the War on Terror.
Themes
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
The Stranger and Changez’s food arrives, and Changez warns the Stranger not to try the yogurt since it is uncooked. Pointing out the Stranger’s reluctance, he eats some of each of the Stranger’s dishes to reassure him.
Changez’s warning not to eat the yogurt seems calculated to make the Stranger anxious again. He may be teasing the Stranger, or he may be feeling more hostile to him.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon