The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Erica Character Analysis

Erica is a beautiful and popular Princeton graduate, with whom Changez falls in love. She has strong feelings for Changez, though she sometimes seems to view Changez as an exotic foreigner more than a true friend and lover. A writer, she is nostalgic for Chris, a childhood friend and boyfriend who died a year before she and Changez met. After 9/11, she falls into depression and mental illness, focused around an obsessive nostalgia for Chris that thwarts any possibility of a relationship with Changez. By the end of the novel, she may have killed herself, though Changez in his life in Pakistan still thinks fondly of her and imagines – though without any real hope – that she will someday come to him. That the name “Erica” is contained within the word “America” is no coincidence, and Changez’s relationship with Erica can be seen as analogous to his relationship to America.

Erica Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The The Reluctant Fundamentalist quotes below are all either spoken by Erica or refer to Erica. 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 2 Quotes

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.

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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 7 Quotes

“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 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.

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Erica Character Timeline in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The timeline below shows where the character Erica appears in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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...that he will tell him about his lover back in America, a Princeton classmate named Erica. (full context)
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Changez meets Erica the summer after they graduate from Princeton. Changez’s college soccer friend, Chuck, invites him on... (full context)
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When Changez arrives in Greece, he is so attracted to Erica’s “regal” appearance that he offers to carry her backpack. Erica wears a t-shirt with Mao’s... (full context)
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...group heads to Greece’s coastal city of Piraeus, where Changez sees other men flirt with Erica. One man tries to impress her by playing American pop music on the guitar, but... (full context)
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A member of the Princeton group, Mike, tries to woo Erica while they eat dinner at a restaurant in Santorini. He sits next to her and... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez that she’d like to be alone in Greece, writing, but that she isn’t... (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... (full context)
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Changez gradually realizes how difficult it is to catch Erica on her own — she’s always surrounded by other people. Although this is because she’s... (full context)
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...of the East stand alongside modern military forces that serve a similar purpose. One day, Erica sunbathes topless while Changez sits close by. She notices him looking at her, and he... (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 that being in... (full context)
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Changez tries to make conversation by asking Erica about the men’s shirt she’s wearing, which is visibly worn. She replies that it belonged... (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... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez more about Chris. Both he and Erica were only children, and best friends... (full context)
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Later, Erica and Changez join the rest of their group for dinner, Erica sits near Changez. Chuck... (full context)
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Changez and Erica aren’t physically intimate in Greece, but Erica gives Changez her number, since they’re both moving... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...the back and leads him inside for food. Later that evening, though, Changez thinks of Erica, and wishes that she were at the party with him. He imagines that even she... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...at night. While he works for Underwood Samson, he explores the city at night with Erica as his guide. (full context)
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Changez’s first New York encounter with Erica takes place at her apartment on the posh Upper East Side. Unsure of what to... (full context)
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Erica shows Changez an envelope containing a manuscript that she plans to send to an agent... (full context)
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Changez notices a sketch hanging on the wall in Erica’s room; Erica explains that Chris, inspired by the Tintin comics, drew it when he was... (full context)
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Erica shows Changez the rest of her apartment, including a terrace with a beautiful view of... (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 about Pakistan, and... (full context)
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After dinner, Erica and Changez travel downtown to Chelsea to attend a party at an art gallery. Even... (full context)
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...City. Mingling with artists in “outrageous” clothing, he feels relieved that he’s wearing Pakistani robes. Erica is surrounded by friends, and Changez is reminded of her magnetic personality. At the end... (full context)
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Changez accompanies Erica to parties, restaurants, and galleries, but always with other friends. He notices that she seems... (full context)
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...weekend before Changez leaves for the Philippines to assist Underwood Samson with the music business, Erica invites him on a picnic; he’s pleased to find that they’re alone. Erica tells him... (full context)
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While Changez is telling the Stranger about Erica, the lights suddenly go out in the café. The Stranger jumps to his feet, but... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Changez receives many emails from Erica during his time in Manila. The messages, which Changez treasures and looks forward to, are... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Changez meets Erica shortly after he returns from the Philippines. She seems older, he notes, but still beautiful.... (full context)
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Changez tells Erica that his aunt went insane and never married again after her husband died, even though... (full context)
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Changez is flattered that Erica tells him about Chris, but worried that she will never move past Chris. He neglects... (full context)
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Changez takes Erica back to his apartment, which is far smaller than hers, and she falls asleep. He... (full context)
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Changez is attracted to Erica, but feels protective around her. He notices that she seems lonely and introverted in public,... (full context)
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Erica has found an agent for her manuscript. The agent, who she obtained through a family... (full context)
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At Changez’s apartment, Changez and Erica drink champagne, and Erica asks Changez if he wants to see a bruise she sustained... (full context)
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Erica tells Changez that he is the only man she has been with other than Chris.... (full context)
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Erica asks Changez about his experiences with women, and he admits that he never had sex... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Shortly after Erica and Changez try to have sex for the first time, the United States begins bombing... (full context)
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Changez sees Erica a few days after the bombings in Afghanistan, and notices that she looks pale and... (full context)
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Changez and Erica go back to his apartment. He tries to kiss her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. She... (full context)
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After Erica and Changez make love, she tells him that he is a kind person. Changez feels... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Erica leaves Changez’s apartment before he wakes up; he doesn’t see her for a few days,... (full context)
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Changez asks Erica about her novel, and she begins to cry: she can’t find the energy to work... (full context)
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Changez is unable to deduce what causes Erica’s sickness, but thinks that she is suffering from a powerful nostalgia for her relationship with... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...is happy to reunite with his brother, his mother, and his father. Changez doesn’t mention Erica to any of them. His brother tells him that he has friends who are fortifying... (full context)
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Changez emails Erica, telling her about his anger and guilt, and letting her know that he misses her.... (full context)
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Changez meets Erica, who looks distant and “devout,” as if she’s been fasting. Erica says she’s been thinking... (full context)
Chapter 10
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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 over her love for Chris.... (full context)
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...Neruda’s house, which again reminds him of Lahore. While he walks around, he thinks of Erica, and realizes that he may have failed to make her love him because he lacks... (full context)
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...nervous that he will lose his job and his visa, and thus may never see Erica again. Nevertheless, he leaves Chile and flies back to New York. (full context)
Chapter 11
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...work visa. He is nervous about facing Jim, and wonders about his self-imposed loyalty to Erica. When he goes to Underwood Samson for the last time, he feels confused but determined. (full context)
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Changez is unsure whether or not to see Erica once more before leaving for Pakistan. He tries to email her, but Erica’s inbox is... (full context)
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Changez drives to see Erica’s mother, who wears no makeup. She tells him, quietly, that she hasn’t heard anything from... (full context)
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Changez spends the next week waiting for a call or message from Erica, and revisiting places they visited. Some of these places he’s unable to find, and others... (full context)
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...best he can, Changez boards a flight to Pakistan. He thinks of his time with Erica, and the cliff where she may have killed herself. He leaves his jacket on the... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Changez arrives in Pakistan, and finds himself unable to stop thinking about Erica. He imagines what it would be like if she came to live in Pakistan while... (full context)
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...he is gay, but though he says he is not he doesn’t tell her about Erica. He assures the Stranger that he doesn’t really expect Erica to come back to life,... (full context)
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...politics because he wanted to draw attention to himself in an irrational attempt to win Erica’s attention. His friends and colleagues warn him that America might send someone to intimidate him... (full context)