We happened to read and discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist in one of the most stressful, anxiety-wrought, and confusing months of my life. The ambiguity of this book, the myriad possible interpretations, my own growing uncertainty, and the disaster that was my oral presentation only added to the crushing self-doubt that I was allowing to run my life. I didn’t know what I thought the point of the book is. More importantly, I couldn’t quite grasp what it means to me. The fact that I happened to choose it for my oral report highlighted the fact that I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say about it and, I think, perhaps I was reluctant. I was reluctant to take a stand because I was so unsure of myself and therefore lacked the amount of faith I needed to do so. I allowed myself to get terribly lost, but was able to find myself and my way before I sunk into a quicksand pit of doom. I could mull over the fact that I “could” and “should” have found the sunny path a lot sooner, but I don’t like to live my life with too many regrets.
It is easier for me to tackle The Reluctant Fundamentalist now that I am more sure of myself. I have a stance. It might not be the “right” one, but I don’t think that matters. An author might have a precise point to make, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to get it. Many will find their own meaning, their own point and stance which comes from the story. The most important thing, when I read, is to find something from a story that resonates with me. It’s why I do really love writing, because I am able to take something and make it mine in some way. I am able, if I do it well, to articulate something important about myself and maybe something important about humanity as well.
One of the biggest and, of course, inevitabl, debates at the end of the book is the question of what happens after the last sentence. Is that “glint of metal” really the holder of the American’s business cards? Is it a gun? Does Changez die? Does the American die? Who’s going to shoot who, and what’s up with that hulking waiter? But wait, does it really matter? Do we need to know what happens? In my opinion, we don’t. It’s impossible to know. What we do know is what Changez has told the American, and therefore what he has conveyed to us.
The fact that the book is told in dramatic monologue can trigger its readers to be a bit suspicious. Can we trust Changez? His words are the only ones we read, and the only thoughts are the ones that he speaks of in his story. Because of this, it is important to read between the lines. The words Changez uses, the way he phrases them, and the details he reveals all give us hints as to who he is as a person and as to what his motives might be.
I wrote all of that in March, right after Spring break. I ended up getting stuck and having loads of other work to do and it got added to the ever-growing “Things to do before the semester ends” list. Well, here I am, as usual, working with the deadline very close on the horizon. I’m not exactly sure what I thought my “stance” was, but I think I can figure it out from the quotes I typed up for myself and re-visit the discussion of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
We’ve all been in agreement that this novel showed the political and social tensions between the muslim world and the United States. We’ve discussed that it shows how both sides are both the victim and the aggressor. I’d like to discuss, though, how it is a way love story. I’m not exactly sure why it matters, but I think I will come to some sort of conclusion by the end of this post.
Changez reminds me a lot of myself in his different emotional stages. When he first meets and spends time with Erica he is full of irrational hope. “I felt–despite the presence of our companions, whole attention, as always, she managed to capture–that she was sharing with me an intimacy,and this feeling grew stronger when, after observing me struggle, she helped me separate the flesh from the bones of my fish without my having to ask” (29). He’s infatuated with her and everything she does like this continues to fuel this obsessive love. He is consumed by it.
“The powers of my blinders shocks me,” he tells the American, “looking back–so stark in retrospect were the portents of coming disaster in the news, on the streets, and in the state of the woman with whom I had become enamored” (93). When things begin to go awry with Erica after 9/11 he turns obsessively desperate and even more irrationally hopeful. He clings to her and never really gives up. When he eventually struggles to not get in contact with her he describes it has trying to get over an addiction. Even after she disappears, he still clings to her memory–imagining his life as it could have been with her.
By the time Changez is telling his story to the American he has reached his reflective phase. He seems more emotionally sound–more detached from his emotions for Erica and able to reflect on his feelings and actions. He has become aware of how he was. I’m curious as to when Changez reached this stage. I could see it being caused by Changez realizing where all of this had gotten him–to be seen as a terrorist. I don’t think he’s a terrorist, I just think that he accidentally fell into being seen as one because of where his feelings led him. When he publicly speaks out, quite passionately, against America he draws much attention to himself. Changez reflects that this was probably his ulterior motive. “I had, in my own manner, issued a firefly’s glow bright enough to transcend the boundaries of continents and civilizations. If Erica was watching–which rationally, I knew, she almost certainly had not–she might be able to correspond. I was tugged at by an undercurrent of loss when she did not do so.” He’s obviously still incredibly desperate–his passion unabated. Now, however, as he is talking the American stranger, he is calm and wise. He is able to look at his past self and understand his emotions, possibly so that he could learn from them. It is unfortunate that he found himself being seen as a terrorist because I feel as if he is emotionally ready to live his life without being attached to Erica. I think he hopes that the American will not try to kill him. He doesn’t know for sure if the American is there to do that, but he knows that it is a strong possibility. I wonder if Changez thinks his story might help the American see the real Changez–the Changez who was simply obsessed with a girl.