The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism & Fundamentalism Theme Icon
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Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Theme Icon

As a Pakistani man in the United States, Changez has a perspective and experiences that give him insight about aspects of American patriotism that Americans take for granted. Reflecting on his time at Princeton University, he realizes that there is a hidden patriotic project in his college education. Young, intelligent students from the United States and the rest of the world are taught to love America, live in America after they graduate, and lend their services to American companies. During his time at Princeton, Changez isn’t conscious of this patriotic indoctrination, but after September 11, he witnesses an enormous surge in patriotism—and a patriotic obsession with the United States’ own past and purity—that affects him directly. Although he had thought that New York City had its own distinct culture, after the attack he sees the city join with the rest of the United States in forming a single culture whose most obvious characteristic is its hostility to non-Americans like Changez himself.

Even though Changez is naturally resistant to this form of patriotism because it excludes him, he continues to love his new country, which has provided him with a first-rate education and job. His relationship to the United States is similar to his love for Erica (whose name, not by accident, is contained within the word “America”). Like America during the War on Terror, Changez observes, Erica becomes obsessed with her own past, most notably her love for her dead boyfriend, Chris. It’s unlikely that her relationship with Chris was remotely as strong while he was alive; she idealizes the past because it’s past; because it’s safe, unchallenging, and unchanging. Ultimately, it is Erica’s failure to escape the past that prevents her from loving Changez in the present. On the one occasion when they have sex, Changez tells Erica to pretend that he is Chris – a clever metaphor for the way Changez must pretend to be someone else to succeed in the United States.

Changez’s relationship with America and patriotism has all the turmoil of a love affair. Although he loves America initially, and it seems to love him in return, it becomes clear by the end of The Reluctant Fundamentalist that both the United States and Erica are too nostalgic for an idealized, semi-mythical past to reward his feelings of love or patriotism. His feelings rejected and disillusioned with the United States, Changez returns to Pakistan.

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Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States appears in each chapter of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Below you will find the important quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist related to the theme of Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States.
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.


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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.

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.