The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Stranger Character Analysis

The unnamed person to whom Changez recounts his time in America, the Stranger never speaks in the book. In fact, the reader’s only impressions of him come from Changez’s remarks. Because of this, it’s left unclear how much Changez can trust the Stranger – it seems possible that the Stranger is merely a tourist, and just as possible that he is some kind of government agent. In fact, there is a sense that the Stranger may even be an American spy sent specifically to investigate, apprehend, or even kill Changez. Yet the novel ends on a cliffhanger, not revealing who or what the Stranger is, and in that way capturing the uncertainty and tension in any exchange between these cultures in the post-9/11 world.

The Stranger Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The The Reluctant Fundamentalist quotes below are all either spoken by The Stranger or refer to The Stranger. 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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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.

Chapter 8 Quotes

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.

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

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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The Stranger Character Timeline in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The timeline below shows where the character The Stranger appears in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...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 comments that the Stranger appears to be... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez asks why the Stranger has come to Old Anarkali, and suggests an answer: he’s come for a cup of... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
As Changez and the Stranger sit in the café, a waiter comes to their table who, Changez notes, seems to... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
...his job interview with Underwood Samson. His interviewer, Jim, is well-built – not unlike the Stranger, Changez notes – and, tells Changez to convince him to offer him a job (this... (full context)
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez takes a moment to explain his financial situation to the Stranger more precisely. His family was once rich and powerful, but its wealth has been shrinking... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
At the café, the waiter brings tea, and Changez says that the Stranger seems suspicious again, refusing to add sugar to his tea, or drink it until Changez... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez resumes telling the Stranger about his job interview. Jim gives him a difficult problem to solve: he has to... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Back in Pakistan, the Stranger has finished his drink. Changez muses that Princeton changed him, but couldn’t make him forget... (full context)
Chapter 2
Human Connection Theme Icon
...wear traditional Pakistani clothing. He observes that one of the young women has caught the Stranger’s eye, and asks him if he has a lover, male or female, back in America.... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...the ocean, or Europe, before. His biggest annoyances on the vacation, he comments to the Stranger, occur hen he sees his Princeton friends spending money too readily, or arguing with the... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Back in Lahore, Changez observes that the Stranger hasn’t been paying attention to his story; he’s too distracted by the sight of the... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
...Changez notices that Erica is sitting very close to him. In Lahore, Changez tells the Stranger that being in Pakistan, where women wear more clothing, makes men more attracted to women... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notices that the Stranger’s mobile phone is ringing. He encourages the Stranger to answer it, assuring him that he... (full context)
Chapter 3
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez tells the Stranger that he seems uncomfortable, and compares the way he looks around the café to the... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...him for directions. In general, he feels like a New Yorker, not an American. The Stranger points out that Changez’s voice is rising; Changez explains that he is often sentimental about... (full context)
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...trainees are tested constantly on their new knowledge. Back in Lahore, Changez says that the Stranger seems impressed with the training program. He comments that Underwood Samson exemplified the professionalism that... (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
In Lahore, Changez asks the Stranger why he is recoiling from the beggar soliciting him for money, and wonders aloud what... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
...his supervisors, instead of alienating them, as it sometimes did at Princeton. He tells the Stranger that his accent, which sounds English, may have given him an advantage at Underwood Samson,... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
While he was overjoyed at the time, Changez tells the Stranger, his world would soon change. He encourages the Stranger to notice how quickly the streets... (full context)
Chapter 4
Human Connection Theme Icon
The Stranger has noticed the scar on Changez’s arm, Changez says. The scar, which is darker but... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Back in Lahore, Changez explains to the Stranger that the attitude toward alcohol in Pakistan is roughly similar to the attitude toward marijuana... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
While Changez is telling the Stranger about Erica, the lights suddenly go out in the café. The Stranger jumps to his... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
The lights return as suddenly as they disappeared. Changez scolds the Stranger for jumping up so quickly, as if he were a mouse about to eaten by... (full context)
Chapter 5
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...with older businessmen, and begins to say that he’s from New York, not Pakistan. The Stranger seems to ask Changez if his changed behavior made him feel guilty; Changez admits that... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...odd to derive so much pleasure from such a simple note, Changez admits to the Stranger, his upbringing in Lahore, during which he was often forbidden to see his girlfriends for... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez hesitates to continue telling the Stranger about his experiences; he says that he is afraid that what he says next will... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notes that the Stranger is flinching, perhaps because of the bats. Changez assures the Stranger that the bats won’t... (full context)
Chapter 6
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez observes that the Stranger is hesitating to explain who he is, and comments that the Stranger is almost certainly... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
...that his poise, education, and employment at Underwood Samson impress others. Changez observes to the Stranger that he was entering the elite classes in New York at the same time that... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...or his awe at her beauty that stopped him from kissing her, he tells the Stranger. (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez observes that the Stranger is looking at him oddly. He asks if the Stranger finds his story too intimate... (full context)
Chapter 7
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
While living in New York, Changez tells the Stranger, he noticed rapid changes in America, but didn’t notice that his own career and his... (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
In Lahore, Changez suggests that he and the Stranger order dinner. The Stranger says he would prefer to wait until he returns to his... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...tells her to pretend that he is Chris. They have sex, and Changez tells the Stranger that he didn’t feel like himself. The sex is highly intimate, but Erica closes her... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...also ashamed. Erica falls asleep without any medication. In the coming weeks, Changez tells the Stranger, Erica would come to harm, and at times he feels responsible for it. He notes... (full context)
Chapter 8
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Changez notices that the Stranger is uneasy around the waiter. He acknowledges that the waiter seems intimidating, but says that... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
The Stranger’s cell phone beeps, and Changez comments that he has been called exactly every hour. While... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
The Stranger and Changez’s food arrives, and Changez warns the Stranger not to try the yogurt since... (full context)
Chapter 9
Human Connection Theme Icon
The Stranger asks for a fork, but Changez suggests that he use his hands, since he and... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez asks the Stranger if he’s familiar with the military; the Stranger seems to assent, and Changez exclaims that... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez observes that the Stranger has stopped eating. He suggests that they order some desert to accompany the tragic information... (full context)
Chapter 10
American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez points out that the Stranger has a bulge under his suit, in the same place where undercover agents conceal their... (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
...should be working for Underwood Samson, he instead watches news about Pakistan. He tells the Stranger that America, though it could have told India not to attack Pakistan, an American ally,... (full context)
American Imperialism Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Changez continues to fall behind at work. To the Stranger, Changez wonders aloud why his supervisor didn’t replace him, and concludes that it must be... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez says that the Stranger seems skeptical; he assures the Stranger that Juan-Batista was real, and so was their lunch.... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
The waiter brings green tea to Changez and the Stranger. Changez notes that it is unusual for a waiter to be watching so closely to... (full context)
Chapter 11
Human Connection Theme Icon
In Lahore, Changez observes that the market is nearly empty. He tells the Stranger that there seems to be an ominous mood in the air, perhaps because they are... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notices that the Stranger’s glass has been empty for a while. He signals for the bill, and once again... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
...notices racism and American imperialism everywhere. America’s belief in its own superiority, he tells the Stranger, hurts the rest of world, including Pakistan, and hurts America itself. (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
The Stranger seems to ask Changez what he did to stop America. Changez assures him that he... (full context)
Chapter 12
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez notes that the Stranger has noticed that the waiter is walking close behind them as they make their way... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...returned unopened. He realizes that Erica has changed him deeply, and points out that the Stranger is looking at him as if he’s insane. (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
...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, but also that he... (full context)
Human Connection Theme Icon
Changez observes that the Stranger seems anxious, and assures him that the loud sound they’ve just heard is not a... (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Changez admits that not all of his students are perfect, but assures the Stranger that he does not condone or encourages violent behavior of any kind. He remembers a... (full context)
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
...America might send someone to intimidate him or hurt him, and he muses to the Stranger that he has been expecting someone to come for him. (full context)
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
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American Imperialism Theme Icon
Changez notes that the Stranger appears not to be listening to his story. Instead, he is looking over his shoulder... (full context)