?The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing or person is definitively recognizable or known is their identity. A person’s behavior, his/her background, the inevitable bits and pieces of his/her nature and history sown together make him/her who he/she are. Changez is the protagonist of the Novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid. His character is complex and diverse from the rest. It is volatile and his perspective of his identity is irresolute.
By this I mean that his understanding of who he is constantly being altered through the course of the novel, and I will discuss this in the following paragraphs. Changez’s identity refers to who he is; every aspect of his personality adds up to his identity. Changez belongs to an upper-class family from Lahore, Pakistan. He lives in a house with his parents, his sister & his brother. This family is not poor, but is not wealthy compared to the society it mixes with. Changez’s family is relatively liberal as everybody, including the women, work, in order to maintain the high living standards that they are used to.
Changez has been born and brought up in Lahore and has always been a promising and scholarly student. The novel states that he has gone through his entire school life without getting a single B grade. Post his education at school; he received a scholarship to Princeton. This reflects two aspects of Changez’s life; first, his above average intellect that made him eligible for such a pristine offer, and second, his dire need for the financial aid in order to be able to be part of such a prestigious institution.
Like for everybody, Changez’s history is inevitably a part of his identity. It may not be very important, but his financial condition does raise barriers in his life and can be categorized as important enough to be a part of his identity as this causes constraints. Other than these aspects of his life, an important part of Changez’s identity is his mindset. Before getting to Changez’s metamorphosing personality, I would like to state a constant about him: His mannerisms. Through the course of the novel, Changez’s way of speaking is always polite and humble.
This may be a contradiction to his proud and confident personality. As I see it, Changez believes that he is a cut above the rest and works tirelessly to prove it and live up to his own expectations. However, while he feels superior to his acquaintances, he is never seen being impolite or cocky towards them. As Changez’s journey begins in Princeton, he is always slightly different from his acquaintances. His politeness makes him bit of an outsider and he is never quite part of the people there. Another thing that makes Changez different from the rest is his economic stability.
A part of Changez’s identity worth commenting on is not only the need for him to work three jobs whilst being at college, but his efforts to not let his peers at Princeton find out about these jobs. In my view, he wants to keep up with everyone and flourishing on the financial front is one of his life’s goals. I think this is one of Changez’s catalysts that make him work so hard. It is one of the factors that provide him with the drive to flourish. Underwood Samson employs Changez for a job that is almost out of reach. This reflects his diligence and charm.
At this point in his life, Changez claims to be a lover of America and his admiration for the country stands strong. As Changez is not as wealthy as he projects himself to be, it is difficult for him to watch as his friends part with money thoughtlessly on their trip to Greece. ‘Lahore-ancient city…democratically urban, similar to Manhattan. ’ Changez claims that coming to New York was like coming ‘home’ for him. New York is full Urdu speaking cab drivers and has other similarities to Lahore. Changez feels like he is ‘immediately a New Yorker, never an American.
’ In my view, this shows that while he is drawn to New York in a binding way, and while he feels like he belongs to the city, he does not belong to the country. He feels like his nationality is Pakistani and that is where he belongs. I don’t think that at this point he is conflicted between New York and Pakistan, I think he feels like he belongs to both the places, one city and another country. He wears his country’s attire with pride and he also mentions that he from the moment he was in New York, he felt like a New Yorker. Changez’s national identity, at this point, is Pakistani.
Earlier, however, Changez leaked a sense of pride towards belonging to Pakistan. There is no displacement or confusion in Changez as far as the identification of home & belonging to a certain geographical space is concerned. On the contrary, the idea of home seems fixed and determined as Pakistan. A further possible hint of his pride of being Oriental, rather than a Westerner, is given by his decision to combine a pair of jeans with a kurta, a typical item of clothing worn in Pakistan and in some other Eastern countries, when meeting Erica’s parents, hence an important occasion.
Later, in contrast, Changez recognizes that Pakistan was once at the forefront of modernity but he feels a sense of shame and resentment that it is now poor –disparity compared to the view he gets from the 41st floor of his office building. Changez feeds off the power and money that he feels coming closer to him, as these are the base of his ‘American Dream’ and as I earlier mentioned, his need to earn money drives him to work hard. Changez’s identity withholds a hunger for these things, and at the same time he feels ‘privileged’ to be given this opportunity to become the person he has been working towards becoming.
Filipino workers ‘look up’ to rich young Americans and Changez starts to adopt the same attitude and language in order to be looked at with the same respect as his collogues when they are in Manila. He feels sense of power that comes with the realization that due to his job, he decides people’s futures. This power is a part of Changez’s identity, whether the power is present or not. The hunger for the power is a definitive part of Changez. He is, however, unsettled by a taxi driver who shows hostility towards him.
Changez feels like he is part of a play and ought to be making his way ‘home’ like the Taxi driver. The realization that he is falsely altering his identity haunts him, and he feels like he is acting like ‘one of them. ” Here, his identity is unsettled and in the state of flux as it is not concrete and sure. In chapter six, I quote Erica, who says, “I love it when you talk about where you come from, you become so alive. ” This is an observation made by Changez’s lover at the time.
She feels like a part of Changez feels either proud or joyed to be talking about his native land. In my opinion, this observation made is free from any bias and is purely based on Changez’s behavior that unintentionally and unknowingly gives off a sense of liveliness when he speaks of Pakistan, because somewhere inside, it makes him feel alive. Also, after having a seemingly awkward and immensely intimate experience of almost making love to Erica, Changez falls asleep and dreams of ‘home’, which in my view refers to Lahore.
This projects his subconscious as being predominated by his thoughts of his home in Pakistan. An important part of the novel as well as a definer of Changez’s identity is the instance where he sees reports of the 9/11 on TV and his thoughtless reaction is to smile at it. This act can be interpreted in many ways, and my understanding of it is that while Changez loves America and is in awe of it’s power, it gives him a sense of relief that even something as grand as the USA could be brought down to it’s knees. He is aware that this act of
destruction was done by Afghanistan. Changez is not a sadistic person and derives no pleasure from the realization that a substantial number of people were harmed during this attack; this lack of sensitivity is not a part of his identity. Having said that, I would like to point out that it is a sense of indifference to the victims that makes him smile. He does not smile at the way the power is exerted, but at the existence of the power. Previously, Changez saw America as almost indestructible and invincible, which made him feel small in comparison.
Based on that idea, I think Changez finds a sense of relief when he sees that even a country like America can be brought down. For a lover of America, this is rather strange reaction to the tragedy that is the 9/11. Changez’s identity conflict comes into light here. Other than his national identity, Changez’s pride, which is a part of his personal identity, is also seen being flippant soon after. Changez claims that ‘he does not know how to describe his experience.. He did not seem to be himself” when he pretends to be Chris in order to help Erica make love to him.
This is an extremely stark contrast to Changez’s personality traits that are proud and hold high self-esteem and self-contentment. Later, he does claim that he had ‘diminished’ himself in his own eyes. This shows conflict in his mind as to who he is and what stands conscientious in his eyes. After the 9/11, Changez’s perception of America as a nation that looked forward was altered to a nation that was looking back, and he felt like ‘an outsider. ’ This is an important change in his identity as Changez goes from being an outsider to blending in to the American society associated with Underwood Samson back to being a misfit.
Changez returns to Lahore for some time later on. “This was where I came from, this was my provenance, and it smacked of lowliness,” says Changez. “The house had not changed in my absence, I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but the particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him…” Here, Changez’s conflict seems to clear up but his change in identity is more evident. He accepts the change in himself and also points out that he has evolved into the person that he resented previously.
On the next page, he states that he was a man lacking in substance and hence was easily influenced by even a short sojourn in the company of others. This is also a contradiction to the person Changez was when he started at Princeton or at Underwood Samson. He no longer seems proud of who he is, and pride was a core element in his identity. When Changez’s brother ruffled Changez’s hair, Changez felt like he had not been touched so familiarly in a while. He said he felt an ‘almost child-like twenty-two year old. ” This is who he is. He is unsure of who he is.
He feels like a middle-aged child and his age may be a constant, but his youth or adulthood is a question and he does not know where he stands. This adds clarity to the idea of him being conflicted when trying to be definitive of his own identity. He feels like whilst trying to be an earning member of the family, he is also the youngest. He continues to feel a little bit like a child irrespective of his status and career placement. On returning to America, in spite of numerous suggestions from his mother and colleagues, Changez does not shave his beard.
He claims that it is a ‘form of protest’ on his part, ‘a symbol of identity’. He also thinks that it may be a symbol of the reality he had left behind. This shows that he is beginning to believe that the home he has left in Lahore is reality and he is no longer a New Yorker, but a patriot, that in times of need and conflict he belongs to Pakistan. “I know only that I did not wish to blend in with the army of clean-shaven youngsters who were my coworkers and inside me, for multiple reasons, I was deeply angry. ” Changez states that he does not want to blend in with the Americans.
This is yet another aspect of his identity. He does not want to be an American and when a choice has to be made, even when it is more difficult to be a Pakistani, in fact more then, he choses to be one. After being sent on a project by his company, Changez understands that the ambitious part of him that was predominant in his personality now takes a back seat when his country and family come into question. In the beginning of the novel we see Changez as a hardworking person who goes out of his way to make his way to the top. It is a vital part of his personality; it does not hold the same amount of importance anymore.
Changez returned to his country, Pakistan, and takes care of his family. In the novel, there is no definitive reason as to why Changez left America, but I believe that he did not purely leave because something from Pakistan was pulling him back, but because because there was not enough in America to keep him there. While he felt a connect with New York and had strived to reach there, there was an open-ended relationship with Erica that had little hope of ever being resolved. Also, his job, was no more. I believe that this was clearly very important to Changez.
So, he returned to Pakistan and continued his life as a college professor there. Changez’s identity goes through a major evolutionary process over the course of the years he is in America. These changes are reflected on his personality in many ways, ranging from his career-orientation, his personal life, his nationality as well as his priorities. There is, however, never complete clarity to me as to what he thinks of as important and where ‘home’ is to him, until the end. I cannot for sure clarify that he is completely content because in spite of his return I sensed an undertone of sadness when he left his dream behind.