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 Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.