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 relationships with others were about to end.
Changez the narrator looks back on his earlier naiveté: clearly, he has become more mature and realistic. While it’s still not clear why he changes, it seems likely that the change has something to do with hostility he experiences in New York.
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 convinced that the rumors are merely exaggerations. He tells his family and Wainwright that he isn’t worried, since Pakistan has pledged allegiance to the United States. He notes privately that even if Muslims are being attacked, he is wealthy and powerful, and isn’t in any real danger.
Changez continues to be optimistic about his relationship with the United States, but his optimism is more obviously selfish and narcissistic than it was previously. In only a few months, Underwood Samson has pulled him away from his roots, so that he feels that he’s fundamentally different than the Muslims who are being attacked.
At Underwood Samson, Jim, still very impressed with Changez, assigns him a new project at a cable company in New Jersey. The company has been declining in recent years, meaning that Changez and his colleagues have the unpopular job of downsizing its staff. Changez notices that the company seems to be sabotaging Underwood Samson’s work in small ways, such as misplacing notebooks or puncturing tires.
Underwood Samson’s frosty reception in New Jersey symbolizes the world’s growing dislike for America and the American economy and culture. Note how the description of the company might also be used to describe Afghanistan or Pakistan, and how “downsizing” can be taken as a euphemism for killing people. Also notice how the people of the company—which Underwood Sampson has supposedly come to help—actually resent the Underwood Sampson staff. This is another echo of the reception that American troops received in Afghanistan.
Jim advises Changez not to be concerned. He remembers living through the 70s, when the economy was bad, and seeing the growth of the service sector. He adds, while playing with his watch, that his father worked with his hands, meaning that Jim saw the decline of manufacturing firsthand. He tells Changez that they both come from places that are in decline, and that to be successful, people have to accept change instead of resisting it. Changez agrees with much of what Jim tells him, but finds it impossible to accept that Pakistan is a country in permanent decline. Still, he feels confident that his profession is valuable, and imagines that the acts of sabotage he’s experienced in New Jersey are short-term.
Jim seems to be concerned with Changez’s problems in New Jersey, but he talks about himself instead of asking Changez questions. In encouraging Changez to forget the past and embrace change, Jim represents the opposite of Erica’s nostalgia for Chris: while Erica obsessed over Chris, Jim seems to have accepted his father’s death. His attitude is optimistic, but Changez, whose family fortunes have been declining for generations, cannot entirely share this optimism. Although he continues to agree with most of what Jim tells him, Changez is slowly beginning to resent him, and Underwood Samson, and see that their belief in always looking forward and extreme meritocracy actually blinds them to the ways that these ideas harm the less powerful and less privileged.
Changez that many of the people who will be fired at the company in New Jersey are middle-aged and older, and can’t afford to be fired. When he points this out to Wainwright, Wainwright jokes that Changez works for “the man,” but then acknowledges the problem. Wainwright tells him that Underwood Samson would make the same business decisions whether Changez worked there or not, and encourages him to “focus on the fundamentals,” the slogan Underwood Samson teaches its employees during training. Changez feels occasional guilt at firing people, but for the most part he is too focused on the details of his job to think about the people he is firing.
Changez finds it difficult to follow Jim’s advice and embrace change because he sees the people who change will leave by the wayside. A distance is beginning to grow between Changez and Wainwright: while they’re still friends, Wainwright is more adept at dealing with his guilt at firing people, and more eager or at least willing to repeat the slogans Underwood Samson teaches him. Changez implies that the goal of such slogans may be to encourage employees not to feel guilty by distracting them. Hamid also reveals where at least part of the title of his novel comes from: Changez focuses on the “fundamentals,” as Underwood Samson tells him to do, but he still feels guilty.
Shortly after Erica and Changez try to have sex for the first time, the United States begins bombing Afghanistan. Changez sees footage of American soldiers, which the news network describes as a daring raid on a terrorist base. Changez is upset and angry, since Afghanistan is friendly with Pakistan, and neighbors it. He drinks heavily, and when he goes to work the next day, he finds that he can’t concentrate.
Changez begins to resent the United States for attacking his native country’s ally. He also begins to see that the American media distorts the truth in order to reinforce patriotism — the raid on the terrorist base strikes Changez as horrifying, not daring. The War on Terror begins to alienate Changez from Underwood Samson.
In Lahore, Changez suggests that he and the Stranger order dinner. The Stranger says he would prefer to wait until he returns to his hotel, but the Stranger insists, adding that Pakistan specializes in big, carnivorous meals that symbolize the country’s aggression, power, and its willingness to do anything to achieve what it wants. Changez tells the Stranger that Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, and that while the United States was still small and weak, Pakistan built enormous buildings. This is very different, Changez acknowledges, than the stories of poor, dangerous terrorists Americans see on the news. He observes that he is raising his voice and making the Stranger uncomfortable, and apologizes.
Changez’s insistence that the Stranger stay for dinner seems aggressive, especially given his descriptions of Pakistan’s aggressiveness. At the same time that he denies stories of Pakistani terrorism, he boasts that Pakistan is very dangerous to its enemies. While Changez uncharacteristically admits to being angry, it’s unclear if he is responding to the Stranger specifically, or to his memories of the bombings in Afghanistan.
Changez sees Erica a few days after the bombings in Afghanistan, and notices that she looks pale and nervous, and that he barely recognizes her. She tells him that she hasn’t felt so sick since Chris’s death, that she is on medication that doesn’t make her feel any better, and that she constantly thinks dark thoughts about Chris, Changez, and her book. Changez notices that Erica still has some of her old energy, but it’s only visible at times. Erica tells Changez that she doesn’t think it’s good for Changez to see her so often. Changez is upset and confused.
Erica’s declining health takes place in the aftermath of 9/11, but it’s not clear why she is suffering. She is declining in health fairly slowly, since Changez still notices some of her old charisma. She continues to trust and feel attracted to Changez, but she’s also pushing him away, hence her insistence that it’s not good for him to see her so often.
Changez and Erica go back to his apartment. He tries to kiss her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. She tells him she misses Chris, and, for reasons he can’t quite understand, he 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 eyes the entire time, as if she’s picturing Chris. As he has sex, Changez feels as if he is penetrating a wound, and at times he imagines that she is bleeding.
Changez’s lovemaking session with Erica may represent the height of his connection with her. Yet even here, Erica and Changez have to pretend that he is someone else, and this “lie” makes the sex disturbing for him. If Erica can be said to represent America, then Changez only succeeds in connecting with “America” by pretending to be Western — much as he does, one could say, at Underwood Samson. He can only succeed in America if he gives up himself.
After Erica and Changez make love, she tells him that he is a kind person. Changez feels satisfied but 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 that the Stranger’s expression is unreadable, but that he is probably disgusted. He apologizes for telling him such things, but assures him that their food will be delicious.
Erica and Changez feel a close connection, and she falls asleep naturally for the first time in weeks. At the same time, Changez dislikes the fact that he’s been forced to pretend to be someone else in order to connect with Erica. In Pakistan, Changez admits, for once, to being unable to read the Stranger’s expression — the disgust he imagines on the Stranger’s face may really be his own disgust with himself