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.
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States ThemeTracker
Patriotism & Post-9/11 United States Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
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.
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.
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.