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Changez and Khan

As we discussed in class, Changez from The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Khan from The Submission share several characteristics as they explore their identity in the two novels. At the beginning of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez is not much of a conformist. While he wants to fit in at Princeton, he recognizes that his exoticism gives him an advantage,”…the non-Americans among us tended to do better than the Americans, and in my case I reached my senior year with having received a single B” (4).  When he moves to New York, he realizes, though, that he never became an American at Princeton: “I was, in four and a half years, never in America; I was immediately a New Yorker” (33). When he travels to Manila for his job, he tries to conform to the American ideal, for his own advantage: “I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American” (65). When 9/11 occurs. it represents a turning point in Changez’s identity as he takes pleasure in the destruction, pleased that America is finally falling victim to someone else for once. Once he visits his family in Pakistan, he fully embraces his Pakistani identity in America. The major thing he does is keep his beard: “It was, perhaps, a form of protest, on my part, a symbol of my identity, or perhaps I sought to remind myself of the reality I had just left behind” (130).

Khan, however, undergoes a different sort of exploration of identity. His identity stays mostly static throughout the novel. One of the turning points is when he decides to shave his beard off before the hearing.

“He had grown the beard to play with perceptions and misconceptions, to argue against the attempt to define him. If he shaved, would he be losing the argument or ending it? Was he betraying his religion? No, but it would look that way. Was he betraying himself? That question shook the hand holding the razor” (213).

He toys with his identity throughout the novel by keeping the beard, but it ultimately remains the same as it did at the beginning of the novel. The moment where he impulsively shaves off his beard suggests his choice to keep his American identity. Soon after the hearing, he withdraws from the competition. Then he decides to move to Kabul and eventually becomes a famous architect. I tried to find if there was anything mentioned in the epilogue about his beard, but there was none. I think he probably grew it back, because they were so much more common there than in America, and Muslims are more respected at that time, about thirty years later.

I think the symbolism of the beard, in both novels, is very important. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez grows and keeps a beard to show his new identity that he closely identifies with now. He then keeps the beard throughout the rest of the novel as he moves back to Pakistan. In The Submission, Khan has a beard at the start of the novel and then as he is pressured by outside forces to become more “American”, he shaves it off. The shaving seems to be an attempt by him to get rid of his Muslim identity, but it doesn’t work out, as he soon feels pressured to drop out of the competition altogether.

 

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