Throughout The Reluctant Fundamentalist, beginning on the first page, Hamid, the author, shows how people judge one another based on their clothing, their skin color, and their mannerisms. These forms of racism shape Changez and his impressions of the United States. Although Changez’s friends at Princeton treat him respectfully, they’re aware that he is an outsider in the United States. When they travel to Greece together, Changez experiences various forms of “soft” racism. While not rude or disrespectful to him, his friends think of him as an exotic “pet”; even Erica is attracted to Changez because he is “different.” Changez accepts and in some ways encourages these feelings, partly because he wants Erica and his other friends to accept him and partly because he himself is unsure who he is.
After September 11, Changez encounters more overt and hostile forms of racism in America. He’s called an Arab, though he’s really Pakistani, and is detained at an airport and harassed by a bigoted security officer. Changez refuses to “cave in” during these confrontations, and, in defiance of what he sees as their profound unfairness and viciousness, deliberately changes his behavior and appearance to appear even more obviously foreign. Put another way: the novel shows how racism helps to create the very thing it fears. In Changez’s case, racism ultimately drives him from his adopted country of the United States back to Pakistan. The racism and prejudice stemming from the fear of fundamentalism leads him, a lover of America, to become at minimum more critical of the United States, and, possibly, a fundamentalist.
In The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s “frame narrative,” Changez and the Stranger judge each other based on their racist preconceptions. The Stranger is suspicious of Changez because of his beard and clothing, while Changez sizes up the Stranger as an American based on his bearing. In the end, Hamid doesn’t reveal if either Changez or the Stranger has judged accurately: Changez could be an anti-American terrorist, and the Stranger could be an American secret agent, or both, or neither. Readers are forced to decide whether the stereotypes of terrorist and spy are, in this case, accurate, and, if they are, whether Changez has been driven to terrorism by the racism he encountered as an outsider in the United States.
Racism & Fundamentalism ThemeTracker
Racism & Fundamentalism Quotes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
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 was, in four and a half years, never an America; I was immediately a New Yorker.
Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians. Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed.
… I did something in Manila I had never done before: I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American.
I stared as one — and then the other — of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapses. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.
“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.
I sat on the airplane next to a man who removed his shoes — much to my dismay — and who said, after praying in the aisle, that nuclear annihilation would not be avoided if it was God’s will, but God’s will in this matter was as yet unknown. He offered me a kindly smile, and I suspected that his purpose in making this remark was to reassure me.
I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite … I resolved to exorcise the unwelcome sensibility by which I had become possessed.
I know only that I did not wish to blend in with the army of clean-shaven youngsters who were my coworkers, and that inside me, or multiple reasons, I was deeply angry.