The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Changez, the protagonist of the novel, is a Pakistani man who went to college in Princeton, and who narrates the story of his time in the United States to the Stranger. For most of the novel, he loves the United States and works hard to be accepted by his American friends and colleagues while working at a New York financial firm. Yet, after 9/11 changes his perspective and he faces increasing racism and discrimination, and as his relationship with the beautiful American Erica is thwarted by Erica’s obsession with her dead former boyfriend Chris, he eventually becomes disillusioned with his adopted country, viewing it as a danger to the rest of the world. Changez then leaves America and returns to Pakistan, where he becomes an anti-US lecturer. Throughout Changez’s narration he sometimes addresses the Stranger directly, and these interactions are never entirely clear; Changez’s tone hovers between concern, politeness, and care, and a kind of over-solicitous menace (which one might also say accurately describes his feelings for the US at this point of his life). Ultimately, though, the novel ends without revealing whether or not Changez can be trusted, both as a narrator and as a friend to the Stranger, whether Changez has come to his anti-US views while still to an extent loving America, or whether he has become a terrorist. There is a sense in the cliffhanger ending, which seems poised on a knife’s edge between cementing a friendship between Changez and the Stranger or descending into violence, that Changez is in that moment choosing his own path.

Changez Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The The Reluctant Fundamentalist quotes below are all either spoken by Changez or refer to Changez. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvest Books edition of The Reluctant Fundamentalist published in 2008.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard; I am a lover of America.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening line of the novel, Hamid establishes the fine line between friendly and sinister. Changez is speaking very politely to the Stranger, offering to be "of assistance." And yet there's also something unmistakably sinister about the way Changez comments upon the Stranger's evident discomfort: the more Changez remarks upon it, we can imagine, the more uncomfortable the Stranger becomes. Changez seems to be toying with the Stranger, manipulating him for his own amusement.

Changez also shows an awareness of the Stranger's background: by claiming to be a lover of America, he's essentially identifying the Stranger as an American, too. But in doing so, Changez is suggesting that the Stranger is a paranoid, prejudicial person—the kind of person who would be afraid of a man with a beard. Again, Changez seems aware of the Stranger's potentially racist attitudes toward non-Americans, and yet the more he draws attention to the Stranger's attitude, the more dangerous Changez himself appears.

Of course, it's also possible that Changez really is trying to be of service to the Stranger: because our point of view is so confined (thienovel is written as a kind of dramatic monologue, directed at a second-person "Stranger"), we have a hard timing judging whether Changez is friendly or sinister. Hamid forces us to judge Changez—a judgement that exposes our own prejudices and sympathies.

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“… I get where you’re coming from Changez. You’re hungry, and that’s a good thing in my book.”

Related Characters: Jim (speaker), Changez
Related Symbols: Underwood Samson
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Jim (the first in a long line of monosyllabically-named American characters) interviews Changez for a prestigious job at the consulting firm Underwood Samson. During the course of the interview, Jim comments on Changez's race and income level, and manipulates Changez into "snapping"—a response that Jim seems to find impressive. Jim insists that he and Changez are similar: because they come from working-class families, they're equally ambitious.

The quotation establishes an important idea: finding a "connection" with somebody isn't necessarily the same as sharing life experiences. Jim thinks he knows Changez well: he thinks that because Changez is less well-off than some of his peers, they're "kindred spirits." Jim seems unaware (and uninterested!) that Changez is actually from a relatively well-to-do family, with a huge amount of cultural capital. In short, Jim "sees himself" in Changez, stopping short of forging a real friendship with Changez.

Chapter 2 Quotes

I … found myself wondering by what quirk of human history my companions — many of whom I would have regarded as upstarts in my own country, so devoid of refinement were they — were in a position to conduct themselves in the world as though they were its ruling class.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), Mike, Chuck
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

After getting a first-rate job at Underwood Samson, Changez goes off on a fancy trip to Greece with some of his friends from Princeton University. Changez has always been a little bothered by the level of entitlement he's seen among his classmates in college: they act like they own the world (and in a way, they do). But when Changez travels to Greece with his friends, their entitlement and privilege really makes an impact on him. Even in a foreign country, Changez's classmates act like wealthy, powerful "insiders"—they don't feel any of the discomfort or outsiderness one usually associates with travel.

Perhaps the key word in this quotation is "position." What is the "position," Changez wonders, that allows a group of 21-year-olds to behave like spoiled brats? Of course, Changez's question is mostly rhetorical: he knows perfectly well that America, as the wealthiest and most powerful country on the planet, has produced generations of wealthy, powerful families, and therefore, millions of spoiled children. But the fact that these spoiled children can feel like kings even in other countries attests to the strength of the American "myth" that they've been fed since birth. Changez's classmates are so used to the idea that America is the greatest country in the world that they've come to believe that they deserve the best treatment no matter where they go. As a student who's spent the last 4 years in America feeling like a shy outsider, Changez is understandably irritated with his peers.

When my turn came, I said I hoped one day to be the dictator of an Islamic republic with nuclear capability; the other appeared shocked, and I was forced to explain that I had been joking. Erica alone smiled; she seemed to understand my sense of humor.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), Erica, Mike, Chuck
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Changez and his peers are sitting around a table, talking about their ambitions for the future. One by one, Changez's friends make jokes about "world domination," and so on—then, when Changez's turn comes, he tries to joke about being a brutal dictator. Changez is trying to make fun of himself, alluding to the American stereotypes about Middle Eastern and Pakistani people (i.e., that they're terrorists, dangerous, etc.)

The fact that Changez's peers don't laugh suggests a couple things. Perhaps Changez's joke hits a little too close to home—they really do think of Middle Easterners in the stereotypical terms Changez is alluding to, and therefore find Changez's joke more frightening than funny. Changez is trapped between a rock and a hard place: he can't really fit in with his peers because of the stereotypes about people from his country, and yet when Changez tries to fit in with the group by making fun of his own heritage, he gets a radio silence.

The fact that Erica—a girl on whom Changez already has a crush—laughs at Changez's joke seems to suggest (in Changez's mind) that she "understands" him. But perhaps Erica is no more enlightened than any of her peers: as we'll see, she seems to view Changez through a lens of stereotypes and assumptions about foreigners, just as her other college friends do.

Chapter 3 Quotes

I was, in four and a half years, never an America; I was immediately a New Yorker.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

At this early point in the novel, Changez is still willing to believe that it's possible for a foreigner to totally fit in in the United States. One reason a foreigner can do so is that there are American cities where everyone is an outsider: in New York City, for example, there's so much activity and excitement that few people really feel at home. For Changez, New York is distinct from America and yet captures America at its very best. On one hand, the city is all about activity and ambition: there's simply no time for people like Changez's Princeton classmates to rest on their families' or their country's success. And yet New York is also quintessentially American: it's a city of immigrants and outsiders, a "New World" where the ambitious and the optimistic journey to start over again. In short, New York represents Changez's conflicted relationship with America: he hates the myth of American exceptionalism, and yet gravitates toward America's legacy of hope, brotherhood, and pluralism.

Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians. Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

In his new life in New York City, Changez is at once proud of his Pakistani heritage and yet deeply ashamed of it. Changez is conscious of being "different" from the people around him: his skin is darker, his accent is rare, etc. He feels inferior, since in the present, his country is fairly poor and underdeveloped—in America it's too-often considered a "barbaric" nation. The stereotypes about Pakistan and the Middle East are especially distressing for Changez, since in the past, the Middle East was the "civilized" part of the world, and the Western world was "barbaric."

That Changez is so upset by this suggests that he's been forced to think of himself as a representative and spokesperson for his culture (often the result for victims of racism and "othering"): he's a kind of ambassador for Pakistan, striving to succeed in New York City in order to prove that Pakistan isn't as backwards or barbaric as Americans want to believe it is. He's like the proverbial unloved child, trying desperately to please a distant parent that seems not to care much for him.

I was aware of an advantage conferred upon me by my foreignness, and I tried to utilize it as much as I could.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), Jim
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

As a Pakistani, Changez has plenty of disadvantages working in America: people tend to hold him at arm's length, thinking of him as alien and unfamiliar—in short, it's hard for him to build close relationships with his peers. And yet Changez knows that his outsider status gives him some distinct advantages: as an "exotic" creature, he's automatically more visible and interesting to his peers, meaning that people remember him more distinctly, so it's easier for him to make a good impression.

The myth of the "exotic" foreigner, while it seems to endow foreigners with positive qualities, is itself a form of prejudice, however: the "exotic other" and the "dangerous Muslim" are just two sides of the same racist coin. So the fact that Changez knowingly allows Americans to treat him as exotic suggests that he is, on some level, okay with his peers judging and stereotyping him: he's participating in his own othering. This shouldn't suggest that Changez is somehow to blame for the racism he receives: rather, it suggests that Changez has become so used to doing what his American friends and supervisors tell him to do that he's begun thinking of himself as an "other."

Chapter 4 Quotes

“I’m more unsettled than nervous,” she said. “It’s like I’m an oyster. I’ve had this sharp speck inside me for a long time, and I’ve been trying to make it more comfortable, so slowly I’ve turned it into a peal. But now it’s finally being taken out, and just as it’s going I’m realizing there’s a gap being left behind.”

Related Characters: Erica (speaker), Changez, Chris
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Changez's crush, Erica, opens up to Changez about her tragic past. Erica's old boyfriend, Chris, died tragically, leaving her uncertain of her place in the world: she'd grown up with Chris, meaning that she barely understands what life without Chris would be like. Erica's metaphor is especially interesting, as she compares her sadness to a grain of sand becoming a pearl inside her. She's become so used to being sad about Chris that her sadness has become something beautiful and even desirable. Strange as it sounds, she'd rather continue mourning Chris than move on with her life.

On a metaphorical level, one could say that Erica "is" America, or the Western world, and Chris "is" Christianity and Western culture--the Western world's vanished past. But even setting aside this conceit, Erica's speech is important because it establishes a distance between her and her peers. In short, Erica is an outsider like Changez. (Moreover, the way that Erica embraces her pain and sadness parallels the way that Changez tries to embrace his own stereotyping and make the best of it). At this early point in the novel, Changez thinks that Erica's pain and loneliness will draw them closer together—but little does he know that the opposite is the case.

Chapter 5 Quotes

… I did something in Manila I had never done before: I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

During his early days working for Underwood Samson, Changez travels to Manila to work with a wealthy client. Changez's trip to Manila shows how far he's come since graduating college. While still in college, Changez was disgusted with his friends' entitlement and obliviousness to the dignity of other people. Now, as an employee of Underwood Samson, Changez seems to be trying to act equally oblivious to other people—to act like a confident, spoiled American.

In the simplest terms, Changez is "moving up" in the world. He finally feels that he has a home and a community in the United States: in New York City, he's surrounded by like-minded, ambitious young men and women. But the unpleasant side-effect of Changez's upward social mobility is that he's become the thing he hated. Changez knows that he's acting like an obnoxious, arrogant American, but he also wants to fit in and feel confident about his identity.

I stared as one — and then the other — of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapses. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 is a turning point in the novel (and, of course, in recent American history). There are so many ways to interpret Changez's reaction to the attack that it's worthwhile to list some of the most important:

1) Thus far, Changez has been repressing a lot of hatred for the United States. He's tried hard to fit in with his American peers, even imitating their obnoxious entitlement, but always secretly resenting them (and resenting himself for trying to be like them). With the collapse of the Twin Towers, Changez realizes—almost unconsciously—how much he's come to resent his adopted country, in all its arrogant, pompous superiority.

2) The 9/11 attack pleases Changez because it proves that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that—a myth. But even more importantly, 9/11 seems to balances out the atrocities that Changez believes the U.S. to have committed in other countries. As Changez will go on to explain, the U.S. regularly bombs foreign countries, often murdering women and children, always writing off casualties as "necessary evils." Changez doesn't enjoy seeing women and children die inside the Twin Towers, but he seems to recognize a certain poetic justice in the fact that global forces have now banded together to avenge America's war crimes. He also notes the irony that, while America has routinely murdered foreign civilians with little to no remorse, it's suddenly outraged that 3,000 of its own citizens have been murdered by a foreign power.

3) It's always important to remember that Changez is telling his story to the Stranger. As we've already seen, Changez often tries to manipulate his audience—i.e., make the Stranger as uncomfortable as possible. So Changez's description of 9/11 might be designed to shock and infuriate the Stranger—and, in the process, to confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that the Stranger is an American. (The quotation will probably shock and infuriate plenty of readers too—and for good reason.)

Chapter 6 Quotes

They all seemed to proclaim: We are America — not New York, which, in my opinion, means something quite different — the mightiest civilization the world has ever known; you have slighted us, beware our wrath.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

So far, Changez has fallen in love with New York City because it's both deeply American (in its ambition, its optimism, etc.) and defiantly un-American (in its refusal to fall back on the myths of American superiority and solidarity). After 9/11, however, Changez is angry to see New York join forces with the rest of the country in celebrating American values and American superiority. New Yorkers suddenly seem to believe the same fairy tales that Changez has been dealing with since he arrived at Princeton: that America is the greatest and most moral of all countries; that all other countries are varying degrees of ignorant or evil; that America has the right to invade whatever nations it chooses, etc. As a result, Changez begins to feel like a stranger in his city: the only one who can't buy into America's myths.

Chapter 7 Quotes

I wonder now, sir, whether I believed at all in the firmness of the foundations of the new life I was attempting to construct for myself in New York. Certainly I wanted to believe; at least I wanted not to disbelieve with such intensity that I prevented myself as much as was possible from making the obvious connection between the crumbling of the world around me and the impending destruction of my personal American dream.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Changez speaks eloquently about a familiar problem for immigrants and minorities in their new country. Changez wants to be an American—i.e., a privileged, entitled member of a large and powerful community. It's because of his desire for acceptance that Changez joins Underwood Samson, dates Erica, etc. And yet there's a part of Changez that knows that he'll never really succeed in becoming part of his adopted country: because of his heritage and skin color, he'll always be "different"—an exotic other at best, a dangerous criminal at worst.

In a broader sense, the passage is important for understanding how Changez comes to "grow up" over the course of the book. Changez is still very naive at this point. Although he recognizes that the new War on Terror, precipitated by 9/11, will make the lives of Middle Easterners in the U.S. very difficult, he still thinks of himself as an exception to the rule: he thinks he's so wealthy and well-educated that he won't be persecuted for his race. In short, Changez is smart enough to see through his American peers' racism and narrow-minded view of the world, but he's not yet smart enough to see that he is still an outsider, and not a full member of his new American community.

“The economy’s an animal,” Jim continued. “It evolves. First it needed muscle. Now all the blood it could spare was rushing to its brain. That’s where I wanted to be. In finance. In the coordination business. And that’s where you are. You’re blood brought from some part of the body that the species doesn’t need anymore. The tailbone. Like me.”

Related Characters: Jim (speaker), Changez
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jim—Changez's self-appointed mentor and friend—tries to establish a firm relationship between himself and Changez. Jim uses an unusual analogy, painting a harsh, Darwinian portrait of the world's economy. As Jim sees it, he and Changez are crucial for America's continued success in the future, because they're different; their difference allows them to think creatively and cleverly, ensuring the success of their country's economy.

The way Jim treats Changez seems both condescending and ignorant, however. Jim knows next to nothing about Changez's family or heritage; he just assumes that he and Changez are "buddies" because they both come from somewhat uncommon backgrounds (Jim is from a working-class family; Changez is from Pakistan). Moreover, Jim seems to think of Changez as a mere "tool" in the economy; someone whose value lies in his difference itself, not in his personality or his character. In other words, Jim—no less than any of Changez's other American friends—judges Changez for his outsiderness (even if his judgements are all positive). Jim even suggests that Changez's culture is somehow obsolete or vestigial, in the same sense that the tailbone is a vestigial part of the human body: even if Changez himself is useful, his country and culture aren't.

“Are you missing Chris?” She nodded, and I saw tears begin to force themselves between her lashes. “Then pretend,” I said, “pretend I am him.” I do not know why I said it; I felt overcome and it seemed, suddenly, a possible way forward.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), Erica, Chris
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hamid offers us a striking metaphor for the way minorities try to adapt to their new homes. Changez—by this point in love with Erica—tries to understand Erica's obsessive love for her dead boyfriend, Chris. Erica grew up with Chris, and still thinks about him all the time. It's been suggested that Erica's love for Chris is meant as a metaphor for the Western world's love for its own vanished past: in other words, the decaying legacy of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values (or AmErica's love for Christianity). By the same token, Changez's desire to "become" Chris suggests one of the coping mechanisms that minorities have adopted to survive in America: they've tried to become more American than Americans. (If this idea sounds weird, consider the fact that many of the classic "patriotic" American songs were written by first-generation immigrants.)

Changez is conscious of being an outsider in America: everybody thinks of him as dangerous and threatening because he's from Pakistan, a country where the U.S. is currently fighting a War on Terror. Frustrated with his tormentors, Changez tries to "hide" by becoming perfectly American: first by getting a great American job, then by dating an American, and finally by literally asking someone to imagine him as a white American man.

Chapter 8 Quotes

America, too, was descending into a dangerous nostalgia at that time. There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

As America becomes involved in the War on Terror (and as Erica becomes more and more obsessed with Chris, her dead boyfriend), Changez notices that his adopted country is nostalgic for the past. Everywhere, he sees evidence of Americans celebrating their own heritage and history, rather than looking ahead into the future. (In the years following 9/11, cultural historians have noted, America became increasingly patriotic: going all-out for the 4th of July, giving stores and building patriotic names, etc.—this phenomenon seems to be what Changez is reacting to).

Prior to this quotation, Changez has admired Americans for their ambition and hopefulness, for their ability to look ahead to the future. In New York, for example, Changez believes he's finally found an American city where his drive and ambition make him "equal" to his peers. With a renewed focus on the past, however, it becomes increasingly obvious to Changez and his peers that Changez is not "equal"—he's from a foreign country, meaning that he can't really relate to his nostalgic, patriotic American friends.

I can assure you that everything I have told you thus far happened, for all intents and purposes, more or less as I have described.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

In this ambiguous quotation, Changez assures the Stranger that the story he's been telling so far is the truth. But of course, the very fact that Changez is saying "this is more or less true" makes us—and the Stranger—wonder if the story is true at all.

Changez's words raise some other important questions: why, for instance, is Changez talking to the Stranger so personally and enthusiastically? As Hamid has remarked in interviews, Changez's story may be designed to delay and distract the Stranger, rather than to inform him. Of course, it's impossible to know for sure if Changez is being honest with the Stranger, or if he's plotting to hurt the Stranger. In the absence of perfect information, readers must decide for themselves how trustworthy the narrator ultimately is, and how much of a real connection he is seeking to make.

I sat on the airplane next to a man who removed his shoes — much to my dismay — and who said, after praying in the aisle, that nuclear annihilation would not be avoided if it was God’s will, but God’s will in this matter was as yet unknown. He offered me a kindly smile, and I suspected that his purpose in making this remark was to reassure me.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Changez still identifies as an American, in spite of his anxieties about the racism and brutality of the War on Terror. It's evident from the quotation that Changez feels he has more in common with his American peers than with many people from Pakistan. On a plane to Pakistan, for instance, Changez encounters an Islamic man who prays to God and claims that God, not man, controls nuclear war. Changez's encounter reminds us how thoroughly Western he's become: he lives in an American city, has an American job, seems not to practice Islam, and seems disturbed by those who do so publically.

But of course, Changez's discomfort with the ultra-religious Muslim passenger is only half the story. Changez doesn't seem to have much in common with the passenger, but he also feels like an outsider in New York City. In short, Changez is trapped in between two cultures—he's not fully "at home" in America or in Pakistan.

Chapter 9 Quotes

I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite … I resolved to exorcise the unwelcome sensibility by which I had become possessed.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Changez flies back to his childhood home in Lahore. There, he's shocked to find that he reflexively thinks of the city as run-down and ugly. In other words, Changez's time in the United States has trained him to think of the rest of the world like a "true American": he thinks of non-American cities and countries as inferior. In the quotation, Changez seems to remember the school trip he and his Princeton friends took to Greece years before, and he remembers how obnoxious he found his classmates when they looked down on Greece. Now, Changez is looking down on Pakistan in exactly the same snobbish, entitled way.

For a long time now, Changez has been aware that he's becoming an obnoxious American. But up until this point, Changez was willing to turn a blind eye to his own entitlement, because he was desperate to fit in with his new American peers. When he returns to his childhood home, Changez guiltily realizes how much he's changed. Confronted with his own family and home, Changez decides that he's not going to pretend to be American any longer.

I know only that I did not wish to blend in with the army of clean-shaven youngsters who were my coworkers, and that inside me, or multiple reasons, I was deeply angry.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Related Symbols: Underwood Samson
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

When Changez returns to New York from his trip to Pakistan, he decides to grow out his beard—making it crystal-clear that he's a foreigner, not an American. Moreover, Changez has begun to feel a deep, inexpressible anger with America and his American friends.

Changez lists "multiple reasons" for his anger. To begin with, he's angry with American culture for seducing him. During his time in Pakistan, Changez has come to realize how entitled and arrogant he's become: America has shaped him into the very thing he hates. Furthermore, the atmosphere of the United States after 9/11 has convinced Changez that he's still an outsider in America. In spite of his first-class education and excellent job, Changez is still viewed as a dangerous Middle Easterner. Changez has done everything he can to fit in with Americans, and yet he's still being punished for the color of his skin. Furious, Changez decides that he doesn't want to fit in anymore. Instead of trying to hide his outsiderness, Changez decides to celebrate his Pakistani heritage, to flaunt it in the face of a racist nation—hence his beard.

Chapter 10 Quotes

I too had previously derived comfort from my firm’s exhortations to focus intensely on work, but now I saw that in this constant striving to realize a financial future, no thought was given to the critical personal and political issues that affect one’s emotional present. In other words, my blinders were coming off, and I was dazzled and rendered immobile by the sudden broadening of my arc of vision.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Related Symbols: Underwood Samson
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

During his time working with Underwood Samson in South America, Changez comes to realize how "blind" he's been to the realities of his situation. Working for the firm, Changez is instructed to "focus on the fundamentals." As Changez has interpreted these words, he's supposed to focus on the dollars and cents of his assignments, rather than the human beings he's putting out of business in the process. In other words, "focus on the fundamentals" is a form of corporate propaganda, designed to repress employees' natural sympathy—which is, apparently, the enemy of good business. Furthermore, the emphasis on fundamentals parallels the way that Changez has tried to conceal his Pakistani heritage while in the United States. By concentrating on work and his career ambitions, Changez has hoped to move beyond his race and heritage and prove himself a "true American."

As Changez's blinders come off, he realizes how foolish and narrow-minded Underwood Samson—and the U.S.—can be. Instead of concealing his heritage and looking down on other people less fortunate than he, Changez decides to celebrate his Pakistani roots and express sympathy for the poor and suffering—in other words, he is reluctant to focus on the fundamentals (hence the title of the book). Changez's epiphany represents a key step in his coming of age: the moment when he stops obeying a master (Underwood Samson and U.S. culture) and begins to make his own choices.

There really could be no doubt; I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. Of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn!

Related Characters: Changez (speaker)
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Changez analogizes his situation to that of the janissaries. The janissaries were warriors, kidnapped from their Muslim homeland as children and trained to fight for Christian nations—sometimes fighting against the very countries where they were born. As Changez sees it, he's like a janissary: he was born in Pakistan, but now he's working for the U.S. to keep America's economy strong and the economy of countries like Pakistan weak.

The analogy Changez is making might seem melodramatic (Changez isn't literally a warrior, after all). And yet he has a point: one could argue that America's War on Terror was largely a financial decision, designed to increase America's hold on oil reserves and eliminate the foreign powers who'd attacked the World Trade Center, its very name a symbol of America's economic supremacy. In other words, by working for an American business, Changez is a warrior against Pakistan, in the same sense that a literal soldier would be.

The quotation shows Changez coming to terms with his place in America. By thinking of himself in such broad, historical terms, he arrives at some important truths about his career. Above all, he realizes that he doesn't belong in Pakistan or America: he's an outsider in both countries, "torn" between two cultures.

Chapter 11 Quotes

It seemed to me then — and to be honest, sir, seems to me still — that America was engaging only in posturing. As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority … Such an America had to be stopped in the interests not only of the rest of humanity, but also in your own.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Changez makes some important claims about America's War on Terror, and about what must be done to stop this war. Changez has already argued that America is foolish to believe in its own superiority so fervently—he's been aware of this tendency ever since he traveled to Greece with his Princeton friends. But Changez is reminded of the myth of American exceptionalism after the War on Terror begins. America invades and even bombs foreign countries, convinced that its moral superiority gives it the unshakeable right to do so.

The crucial part of this quotation is Changez's insistence that America "must be stopped." Previously, Changez has quietly resented America's delusions of moral superiority—now, however, he's actively trying to prevent American from enacting its delusions in Pakistan. Changez never explains what, exactly, he's doing to stop America. But it seems like a distinct possibility that Changez has decided to join or support terrorists, bombing and attacking American soldiers who, in his view, are destroying Pakistan. Changez's attitude toward the Stranger—referred to here as "sir"—suggests that he's still trying to provoke the Stranger, and may want to do the Stranger actual harm. Of course, it's also possible that Changez is using peaceful means to oppose American intervention in Pakistan—it's left up to us to decide.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Not, of course, that I actually believe I am having a relationship, in the normal sense of the term, with Erica at this moment, or that she will one day appear, smiling and bent against the weight of her backpack, to surprise me on my doorstep. But I am still young and see no need to marry another, and for now I am content to wait.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), Erica
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

The irony of Changez's relationship with Erica is that, while he's exasperated with Erica for carrying on a long, tormented love affair with a dead man (Chris), Changez is now doing essentially the same thing. Even if Changez insists that he knows he's not in a "true" relationship with Erica, it's clear that for all intents and purposes, he's still devoted to her—despite the fact that she might not even be alive anymore. Instead of looking ahead to the future, Changez is lost in his own past: he still imagines Erica as he first saw her, cheerful and energetic, wearing her backpack, etc. Once again, Changez has become the thing he hates: a nostalgic "shell" of a man.

While Changez's continued love for Erica might seem tragic or ironic to readers, it's also touching. Given that Hamid has paralleled Erica with America throughout his novel, Changez's love for Erica suggests that he still loves his adopted country, in spite of the hardships he's experienced there following 9/11. By the same token, it's possible that Changez—in spite of his apparent hostility toward the Stranger, an American—might still have some respect and admiration for his new acquaintance after all.

I can assure you that I am a believer in non-violence; the spilling of blood is abhorrent to me, save in self-defense … I can see from your expression that you do not believe me. No matter, I am confident of the truth of my words.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel reaches an ending, Hamid suggests that Changez and the Stranger will never see eye-to-eye. Changez insists that since deciding to oppose American intervention in Pakistan, he's used only nonviolent methods. The Stranger seems not to believe Changez: based on everything he's heard, he's decided that Changez is dangerous, and might even be a terrorist. For his part, Changez refuses to try to convince the Stranger that he's peaceful. Changez's refusal to justify himself to the Stranger might imply that he's given up on the project he's been working on throughout the novel; namely, telling the Stranger his story. Even after 200 pages of autobiography, the Stranger seems not to trust Changez, and Changez seems to feel no need to try any harder to prove his reliability.

Without a bond of trust between Changez and the Stranger, the novel seems to heading for a very dark conclusion. Changez and the Stranger don't know each other at all; all they share is the story Changez has been telling the Stranger (in other words, the novel we're almost finished reading). Without the story, Changez and the Stranger might as well be enemies.

But why are you reaching into your jacket, sir? I detect a glint of metal. Given that you and I are now bound by a certain shared intimacy, I trust it is from the holder of your business cards.

Related Characters: Changez (speaker), The Stranger
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final paragraph of the novel, Hamid forces readers to make assumptions about Changez and the Stranger—to judge and even stereotype them. Changez points out that the Stranger is reaching into his jacket, and pulling out what may or may not be a gun. At the same time, a large, dangerous-looking man is running toward the Stranger—someone who may or not be coming to kill the Stranger.

It's impossible to know to a certainty whether the Stranger is holding a gun, or whether Changez is plotting to kill the Stranger. Paradoxically, the carefree way that Changez is describing the situation makes him seem more, not less, sinister—he's so laid-back that he has to be hiding something. (And based on what we've seen of Changez so far, he's hardly a laid-back person ordinarily.) But the sinister undertones of Changez's speech don't necessarily mean that he's planning to hurt anyone: perhaps he's planning to sacrifice himself for the Pakistani cause, or perhaps he's just aiming to embarrass the Stranger.

In short, the end of Hamid's novel forces us to choose sides: to decide whether or not Changez and the Stranger can be trusted. By making such a choice, we're forced to come to terms with our own prejudices and expectations about Middle Easterners and Americans—and this is exactly what Hamid wants.

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Changez Character Timeline in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The timeline below shows where the character Changez appears in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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In the Old Anarkali in Lahore, Pakistan, a Pakistani man, Changez, approaches a muscular, well-dressed man, the Stranger, without introducing himself or giving his name. Changez... (full context)
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Changez asks why the Stranger has come to Old Anarkali, and suggests an answer: he’s come... (full context)
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While at first Changez is dazzled by Princeton’s bright students and old-fashioned architecture, he quickly realizes that his college... (full context)
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The great success of Princeton University, Changez explains, is that it attracts the world’s most brilliant minds to the United States, offers... (full context)
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As Changez and the Stranger sit in the café, a waiter comes to their table who, Changez... (full context)
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Changez is nervous for his job interview with Underwood Samson. His interviewer, Jim, is well-built –... (full context)
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When Changez, irritated by the personal questions, asks Jim what he’s getting at, Jim smiles and says... (full context)
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Changez takes a moment to explain his financial situation to the Stranger more precisely. His family... (full context)
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At the café, the waiter brings tea, and Changez says that the Stranger seems suspicious again, refusing to add sugar to his tea, or... (full context)
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Changez resumes telling the Stranger about his job interview. Jim gives him a difficult problem to... (full context)
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In spite of his mistake, Changez succeeds in gaining a job offer from Jim, since his approach to solving the problem... (full context)
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Back in Pakistan, the Stranger has finished his drink. Changez muses that Princeton changed him, but couldn’t make him forget Pakistan’s tea, of which he... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Changez points out a group of young women wearing Western clothing. He says they’re attractive, and... (full context)
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Changez meets Erica the summer after they graduate from Princeton. Changez’s college soccer friend, Chuck, invites... (full context)
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...her chair; Erica doesn’t ask him to remove it, but, she maintains eye contact with Changez for most of the meal, much to his delight. After dinner, Mike and Erica spend... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez that she’d like to be alone in Greece, writing, but that she isn’t good at... (full context)
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While he waits for another time to be alone with Erica, Changez enjoys his vacation to Greece, especially since he has never seen the ocean, or Europe,... (full context)
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Changez gradually realizes how difficult it is to catch Erica on her own — she’s always... (full context)
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Back in Lahore, Changez observes that the Stranger hasn’t been paying attention to his story; he’s too distracted by... (full context)
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Changez and his classmates come to the end of their trip on the island of Rhodes,... (full context)
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On their bus ride into Rhodes, Changez notices that Erica is sitting very close to him. In Lahore, Changez tells the Stranger... (full context)
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Changez tries to make conversation by asking Erica about the men’s shirt she’s wearing, which is... (full context)
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When their bus arrives at its destination, Erica and Changez have a beer together, and she asks him about Pakistan. Changez tells her about the... (full context)
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Erica shows Changez the leather notebook she writes in, and asks him to show her Urdu writing. He... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez more about Chris. Both he and Erica were only children, and best friends from an... (full context)
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Later, Erica and Changez join the rest of their group for dinner, Erica sits near Changez. Chuck does amusing... (full context)
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Changez and Erica aren’t physically intimate in Greece, but Erica gives Changez her number, since they’re... (full context)
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Changez notices that the Stranger’s mobile phone is ringing. He encourages the Stranger to answer it,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Changez tells the Stranger that he seems uncomfortable, and compares the way he looks around the... (full context)
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At first, Changez finds New York City to be almost like home, since the cab drivers speak Urdu,... (full context)
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On his first day at Underwood Samson, Changez is overwhelmed by the view from the lobby, located high in a skyscraper. America is... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Changez enjoys the excitement of his financial training. He also feels especially powerful when the firm... (full context)
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Later that night, Changez and Wainwright, having gotten drunk with the other trainees on Underwood Samson’s dollar, share a... (full context)
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Wainwright and Changez are hungry, so they go to the Punjab deli where Changez received a free meal... (full context)
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In Lahore, Changez asks the Stranger why he is recoiling from the beggar soliciting him for money, and... (full context)
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In the following weeks of training, Changez begins sizing up his new colleagues. Wainwright is laid back, funny, popular, and a clear... (full context)
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Changez notices signals that he is doing well at Underwood Samson. When it’s time for the... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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While Changez is watching the waves, Jim approaches him, and recalls his first Underwood Samson party at... (full context)
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When the analyst training program ends, Changez learns from Jim that he is ranked first in his class, and that his instructors... (full context)
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While he was overjoyed at the time, Changez tells the Stranger, his world would soon change. He encourages the Stranger to notice how... (full context)
Chapter 4
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The Stranger has noticed the scar on Changez’s arm, Changez says. The scar, which is darker but also smoother than his skin, looks... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Changez’s first New York encounter with Erica takes place at her apartment on the posh Upper... (full context)
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Erica welcomes Changez to her family’s apartment, located on the top floor of the building. Changez notices that... (full context)
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Erica shows Changez an envelope containing a manuscript that she plans to send to an agent tomorrow. She... (full context)
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Changez notices a sketch hanging on the wall in Erica’s room; Erica explains that Chris, inspired... (full context)
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Erica shows Changez the rest of her apartment, including a terrace with a beautiful view of the city,... (full context)
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Back in Lahore, Changez explains to the Stranger that the attitude toward alcohol in Pakistan is roughly similar to... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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After dinner, Erica and Changez travel downtown to Chelsea to attend a party at an art gallery. Even though their... (full context)
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At the gallery, Changez experiences the trendy, minimalist styles of New York City. Mingling with artists in “outrageous” clothing,... (full context)
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Changez accompanies Erica to parties, restaurants, and galleries, but always with other friends. He notices that... (full context)
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The weekend before Changez leaves for the Philippines to assist Underwood Samson with the music business, Erica invites him... (full context)
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While Changez is telling the Stranger about Erica, the lights suddenly go out in the café. The... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 5
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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.... (full context)
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Changez flies first-class to Manila in the Philippines. He is feeling self-satisfied, a feeling that will... (full context)
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Changez expects Manila to be as run-down as Lahore, but instead finds a city with both... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Changez receives many emails from Erica during his time in Manila. The messages, which Changez treasures... (full context)
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At the end of Changez’s time in Manila, Jim flies in to evaluate his work. Jim tells Changez that his... (full context)
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Changez tries to connect with Jim’s sense of outsiderness. Though he didn’t grow up in poverty,... (full context)
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Changez hesitates to continue telling the Stranger about his experiences; he says that he is afraid... (full context)
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On his final evening in the Philippines, Changez turns on the television and sees what he thinks at first is a film, but... (full context)
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When Changez meets other members of Underwood Samson, he initially pretends to be shocked and upset about... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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When Changez’s flight arrives in the United States, he is again separated from the other passengers. An... (full context)
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Changez notes that the Stranger is flinching, perhaps because of the bats. Changez assures the Stranger... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Changez observes that the Stranger is hesitating to explain who he is, and comments that the... (full context)
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Changez observes the strangeness of having a romantic meal while eating dead animals, and wonders if... (full context)
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After 9/11, Changez notices a spike in American patriotism. Although in the past New York City had its... (full context)
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Changez meets Erica shortly after he returns from the Philippines. She seems older, he notes, but... (full context)
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Changez tells Erica that his aunt went insane and never married again after her husband died,... (full context)
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Changez is flattered that Erica tells him about Chris, but worried that she will never move... (full context)
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Changez takes Erica back to his apartment, which is far smaller than hers, and she falls... (full context)
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Erica continues to invite Changez to parties and fundraisers, where he feels that his poise, education, and employment at Underwood... (full context)
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Changez is attracted to Erica, but feels protective around her. He notices that she seems lonely... (full context)
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...short, Erica is delighted at this step in becoming a writer. To celebrate, Erica and Changez go to his flat. They both sense that their time at the flat will be... (full context)
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At Changez’s apartment, Changez and Erica drink champagne, and Erica asks Changez if he wants to see... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez that he is the only man she has been with other than Chris. Since Chris’s... (full context)
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Erica asks Changez about his experiences with women, and he admits that he never had sex before coming... (full context)
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Changez observes that the Stranger is looking at him oddly. He asks if the Stranger finds... (full context)
Chapter 7
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While living in New York, Changez tells the Stranger, he noticed rapid changes in America, but didn’t notice that his own... (full context)
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In the aftermath of 9/11, America seems to him to become aggressively patriotic and nationalistic. Changez hears rumors of violent attacks on Muslims and Pakistani men in the city, but is... (full context)
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At Underwood Samson, Jim, still very impressed with Changez, assigns him a new project at a cable company in New Jersey. The company has... (full context)
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Jim advises Changez not to be concerned. He remembers living through the 70s, when the economy was bad,... (full context)
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Changez that many of the people who will be fired at the company in New Jersey... (full context)
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Shortly after Erica and Changez try to have sex for the first time, the United States begins bombing Afghanistan. Changez... (full context)
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In Lahore, Changez suggests that he and the Stranger order dinner. The Stranger says he would prefer to... (full context)
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Changez sees Erica a few days after the bombings in Afghanistan, and notices that she looks... (full context)
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Changez and Erica go back to his apartment. He tries to kiss her, but she doesn’t... (full context)
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After Erica and Changez make love, she tells him that he is a kind person. Changez feels satisfied but... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Changez notices that the Stranger is uneasy around the waiter. He acknowledges that the waiter seems... (full context)
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Erica leaves Changez’s apartment before he wakes up; he doesn’t see her for a few days, but eventually... (full context)
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Changez asks Erica about her novel, and she begins to cry: she can’t find the energy... (full context)
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Changez is unable to deduce what causes Erica’s sickness, but thinks that she is suffering from... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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Irritated with the nostalgia of Erica and America, Changez turns to Underwood Samson, which is never nostalgic, since it looks to the future. Because... (full context)
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One day, on the street, two strangers harass Changez and call him a “fucking Arab.” Changez is furious, and wants to fight them both,... (full context)
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One evening, Jim suggests that Changez come to his apartment. Changez notices the large number of photographs of male nudes on... (full context)
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Changez soon starts to worry that he could lose his job at Underwood Samson because he’s... (full context)
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Changez’s happiness about his bonus is limited when he learns that Pakistan might soon go to... (full context)
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The Stranger and Changez’s food arrives, and Changez warns the Stranger not to try the yogurt since it is... (full context)
Chapter 9
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The Stranger asks for a fork, but Changez suggests that he use his hands, since he and Changez have spent hours together and... (full context)
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On his trip back to Pakistan, Changez returns to Lahore and initially thinks that the city looks run-down. Then, he realizes that... (full context)
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Changez is happy to reunite with his brother, his mother, and his father. Changez doesn’t mention... (full context)
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Changez feels powerless to protect his family and his country, and ashamed to be returning to... (full context)
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Changez asks the Stranger if he’s familiar with the military; the Stranger seems to assent, and... (full context)
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Back at Underwood Samson, Changez notices that his colleagues are uneasy around him, since he has not shaved his beard,... (full context)
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Changez emails Erica, telling her about his anger and guilt, and letting her know that he... (full context)
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Changez meets Erica, who looks distant and “devout,” as if she’s been fasting. Erica says she’s... (full context)
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Changez becomes increasingly unpopular at work. Jim calls him into his office, and assures him that... (full context)
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Changez observes that the Stranger has stopped eating. He suggests that they order some desert to... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Changez points out that the Stranger has a bulge under his suit, in the same place... (full context)
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Flying to the city of Valparaiso, Chile, Changez cannot stop thinking about Erica, but he is unable to determine why she can’t get... (full context)
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Jim returns to America, leaving Changez to work in Chile with another Underwood Samson vice president. Yet while Changez should be... (full context)
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Changez begins to fall behind on his work. His supervisor angrily tells him to improve his... (full context)
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One day as he meets with Juan-Batista, Juan-Batista asks Changez about his father’s uncle, the poet. He notices that Changez seems unlike his colleagues, and,... (full context)
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The waiter brings a bowl of dessert, which the Stranger finds too sweet. Changez observes that the Stranger must have traveled far in order to acquire a taste for... (full context)
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Changez visits Pablo Neruda’s house, which again reminds him of Lahore. While he walks around, he... (full context)
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Changez calls his parents, who tell him that their home is falling apart, and that India... (full context)
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Changez continues to fall behind at work. To the Stranger, Changez wonders aloud why his supervisor... (full context)
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Juan-Batista invites Changez to lunch. At lunch, he tells Changez that he reminds him of a janissary, the... (full context)
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Changez says that the Stranger seems skeptical; he assures the Stranger that Juan-Batista was real, and... (full context)
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Having realized that he is fighting against his own country, Changez tells his supervisor that he refuses to work. Jim calls Changez, and offers him a... (full context)
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The waiter brings green tea to Changez and the Stranger. Changez notes that it is unusual for a waiter to be watching... (full context)
Chapter 11
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In Lahore, Changez observes that the market is nearly empty. He tells the Stranger that there seems to... (full context)
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On his flight back to New York, Changez thinks that he has always disliked American foreign policy. America uses its vast power to... (full context)
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Changez resolves to use his financial training to study American society. When his plane lands, he... (full context)
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The next morning, Changez wonders how he will support himself without a job or a work visa. He is... (full context)
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Security guards escort Changez through Underwood Samson’s offices, ignoring the beautiful view of New York. He has a brief,... (full context)
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As Changez leaves the building, he wipes his eyes. He feels as if his world has ended,... (full context)
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Changez notices that the Stranger’s glass has been empty for a while. He signals for the... (full context)
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Changez is unsure whether or not to see Erica once more before leaving for Pakistan. He... (full context)
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Changez drives to see Erica’s mother, who wears no makeup. She tells him, quietly, that she... (full context)
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Changez spends the next week waiting for a call or message from Erica, and revisiting places... (full context)
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Changez spends his final days in New York angry and emotional. He notices racism and American... (full context)
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Resolving to stop America as best he can, Changez boards a flight to Pakistan. He thinks of his time with Erica, and the cliff... (full context)
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The Stranger seems to ask Changez what he did to stop America. Changez assures him that he will answer this question,... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Changez notes that the Stranger has noticed that the waiter is walking close behind them as... (full context)
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Changez arrives in Pakistan, and finds himself unable to stop thinking about Erica. He imagines what... (full context)
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Changez’s brother marries soon after Changez arrives in Pakistan, which leads his parents to wonder about... (full context)
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Changez observes that the Stranger seems anxious, and assures him that the loud sound they’ve just... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Changez gets a job lecturing at a university. His training at Princeton and Underwood Samson makes... (full context)
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Changez admits that not all of his students are perfect, but assures the Stranger that he... (full context)
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Changez realizes that he may have turned to politics because he wanted to draw attention to... (full context)
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Changez notes that the Stranger appears not to be listening to his story. Instead, he is... (full context)