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To Talk About Subtlety

In many ways, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a much easier read than Don DeLillo’s Falling Man. Hamid’s narrative goes down smoother; it is more engaging, more tantalizing, and more open.  The book is not long, nor is it mechanically complex.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an easy read.

… Except that it isn’t.  I didn’t realize fully how difficult a book it is to analyze until class on Tuesday, but once I reached this conclusion, it has been impossible to relinquish.  The book has made me uncomfortable in ways that Falling Man simply did not; it makes me question who I am.  What’s more, it makes me question who I am to say the things I say.

Repeatedly during discussion, I found myself indescribably frustrated by the concept of “insiders” versus “outsiders,” as well as that of “us” versus “them.”  It’s apparent to me that these ideas are integral to the understanding of Hamid’s novel, but I find myself pushing away from them.  I’ve considered why this might be, and have come to a couple of conclusions (though I think there are probably more).  Firstly, I do not see “insider” and “outsider” as being clearly or easily defined.  Perhaps this is idealistic of me, but even the experience of Changez in the novel indicates that the supposed lines between the two states can be incredibly blurred.  The idea of these categories is extremely reliant on given situations.  For example, Changez is on the inside of American capitalism for much of the novel, as well as on the inside of 9/11’s social aftermath in the U.S.  However, he sees himself fundamentally as an outsider when he considers America’s values and actions from a global, historical perspective.

What’s more, I think that I struggle with the concept that I have been assigned to what shall, in this example, be the “us.”  My Americanness, which can mean a number of things, has locked me into this “us,” and it is uncomfortable to feel like a representative of wounded – oftentimes “white” – America. There is something entirely uncomfortable about the potential to inescapably be seen as a representative of the nation that Changez describes as a country whose “constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable,” a country with a socially accepted “serf class” and “indentured servants” (156-157).  I feel guilty whilst feeling that I cannot possibly have personally earned so much disdain (maybe guilty even for feeling that way), but neither have I earned any real American status.  I did not control where I was born, nor my fair complexion.  I have yet to vote or pay taxes, and I do not faithfully follow any kind of news. Furthermore, I did not feel directly harmed by 9/11 as a child.  There are things about me that have – and in some circles still would – lead others to look at me and slap the label of “Un-American” on my chest.

I do not point this out as a means of protest against being called an American; I comprehend and am grateful for my nationality.  I am not saying that it isn’t fair that I am considered to be a solid, non-negotiable part of the “us” – only that I do not know exactly what it is about me that makes it so, and because of this I have a difficult time reaching into the creative casing that is Hamid’s novel and presenting the political and cultural realities it contains.  This book has done something for me that I did not know needed to be done any more thoroughly: it has taken me nose-to-nose with stereotyping on a global scale.


One Response to “To Talk About Subtlety”

  1. Olivia: Thanks so much for this very interesting post. I appreciate your thoughtful, considered manner both here on the blog and in your class comments.