The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Themes and Colors
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
American Imperialism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Human Connection Theme Icon

In the face of racism and aggressive nationalism, Hamid questions whether it is possible for two unlike people to genuinely trust and respect one another, while also exploring humans’ fundamental need for these kinds of connections. Most of Changez’s classmates at Princeton are wealthy and take American culture as a given, but Changez works multiple jobs to feed his family in Pakistan. While he tries to forge strong friendships with other students, he can’t shake the sense that he and his peers will never understand each other. He fares somewhat better with Erica, the beautiful Princeton undergraduate with whom he has a long romance, but even this romance ends when Erica becomes obsessed and decides that she is still in love with her deceased boyfriend, Chris. Even when he returns to Pakistan, Changez continues to search the news for information about Erica, suggesting that he’s still committed to finding a connection with her, despite all evidence that such a connection is impossible.

Still another attempt at human connection comes with Jim, the Underwood Samson vice president who hires Changez after realizing that they both come from impoverished families, and both feel a drive to succeed unknown to wealthier Princeton students. Over the course of the novel, however, it becomes increasingly clear that Jim tries to forge a connection with Changez for selfish reasons: he’s a lonely middle-aged man looking for a friend, and he may even be sexually attracted to Changez.

While all of Changez’s attempts at human connection in America can be said to fail, Hamid leaves readers with the image of Changez and the Stranger in a dark alley, deciding whether or not to trust each other. Even if it’s difficult to form an intimate bond of trust with a person from another culture, it might be possible to do so by listening to his story, just as the Stranger has, and just as readers of Hamid’s book have done. And yet there is danger, also, in attempts at making such connections, as Changez and the Stranger’s encounter in the alley seems like it just as possibly might turn to violence.

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Human Connection ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Human Connection appears in each chapter of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Human Connection Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Below you will find the important quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist related to the theme of Human Connection.
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

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 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

“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

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 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.