The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Essay Practice 1 - Identity

Gap-fill exercise

Fill in all the gaps, then press "Check" to check your answers.
   acquiesce      adapt      at first rejected      autodiegtic      external      ignore      mores      narrator      predictably contradictory      protagonist      self-serving      spiritual intent      sympathise      trustworthy      visitor   
QUESTION: “You give off a sense of home. It makes you feel solid.” Is Changez a solid character?

What makes a "solid" character? Solid infers conservative, reliable, and predictable, and in the case of Changez, he could at various stages throughout his own narration of his biography portray himself in that light. He may even be seen by others and through his projection of himself through others as having certain characters mediate Changez’ changing perception of how he himself, wishes to be portrayed. The relationship between persona, character, racial and cultural stereotypes and issues of reliability or trustworthiness is one of both internal and identity. How we (the reader) judge a person's worth and what criteria we use to judge them is problematic, just as much as it is for the characters in a story to judge each other.

Given that Changez is an narrator, often we have no option but to trust him as a “reliable” if not “solid” character.

Changez’s position as a privileged , makes him both the major and the major antagonist. This makes him both , revealingly honest and in all he relates. In particular, his reported relationship to and with Erica (his American romantic interest) portrays him as noble, non-exploiting and self-sacrificing, while at the same time revealing him to be initially morally and ethically plastic, chameleon-like and seeking acceptance by adopting the persona of Erica’s deceased love-interest Chris. On both a personal and an economic level, prior to 9/11, Changez is prepared to or at best to situations that will further his own selfish material and . Following 9/11, in acknowledging his failure to be accepted as an “American” he begins to re-examine his motivations and his moral standing, eventually reverting to patriotic identification with “home” (Pakistan), to those standards of behaviour that he had . To suggest that this makes Changez a “solid” character would thus be false, but like any person whose central urgency is to seek a “solid” immutable character through adapting to changing circumstances and changing life goals, perhaps the reader can with his predicament, or perhaps that is what the author intends?

As a reader, we may be lulled into a false sense of Changez’ nobility, politeness and general courteous nature, until we realise he is a in a foreign country, where he is expected to and to adopt new ; indeed, the challenge those expectations of American superiority and the fundamentals of a meritocracy, may have resulted in the early closure of the book. Instead, we spent the day, at a Cafe in Lahore, his home territory, as he relates a story that reveals first is attraction, then his growing revulsion, and finally, his rejection of all things American. But these changes are transformative, and that he resorts to a political rather than religious nationalism, is a mark of his rejection of the ideals of the globalised economic system based on a level playing field. To describe his character as "solid" world at one level - the level of social intimacy and emotional concern - appear to have some validity. Yet, he begins the description of his world as that of a lover, perhaps indicating a man of passion, but also indicating his desire to achieve the highest merit in a capitalist meritocracy, we're getting the job done seems to count more than his personal morality, and even personal identity store. The fact that he eventually regresses to adopt a questionable moral stance (the duplicitous nature of his conversation with the listener that hints at future violence) that becomes clearer as the narration that develops, demonstrates in some way his bitter failure in achieving what may be described as "the American dream". America has denied him the material wealth, that it promised to hard work, intelligence and corporate loyalty. Regardless of his national and racial profile, Changez, cannot change his indigenous background, cannot become an American and ultimately retire as bitterly behind the comforting walls of his own backyard, one that he left to find his fortune. Having been denied his fortune, even his destiny, due to the fate of 9/11, he re-examines, and re-evaluate this. The economic morality that he believed would provide him be a stage and material rewards that his own country, had denied him. His nascent internationalism is the stuff of dreams, naive and fragile despite his obvious academic prowess, believing that it's not who you know that matters or where you come from that matters, but what you know. In his own land, he is in control. Not only of the narrative but of any outcome he chooses, true or false, moral or immoral. To that extent Changez’ solidarity as a character is disingenuous from the beginning of the narrative until the end.

Personal perceptions, such as Erica’s of Changez, reported by Changez, even if having some degree of flattery, carry with them some resonance of emotional truth, or at least the reader (and perhaps “the listener” in this instance too) want them to be true. For all Changez’ nobility and for all his failings as a character, perhaps we want to pin the tail on the donkey and say, “Yes, Changez is a solid character.” Yet, it is Changez reportedly seen through the eyes of an emotionally vulnerable, intelligent American woman, attracted by Changez’ male rarity as a successful , often noble and apparently honest “outsider”. That “a sense of home” should in some way present a character as being reliable, dependable and trustworthy is certainly a conservative and perhaps almost a sentimental if not a nostalgic desire. But is Changez a “solid character” in a globalized world that requires the individual transcend traditional images of “home”? Is Changez’ appeal for Erica that he espouses a stable family life that she sees (or want to imagine) as being what she too desires, in a very fluid world where she is vulnerable and open to emotional hurt?

Understanding whether Changez is or is not a “solid character” is perhaps too simplistic a choice, especially in a world where Changez is an outsider in a new environment, divested of his parochial and homely attributes. He is appealling precisely because he is an outsider who appears to fit in to a new world order, which had offered him (perhaps almost promised him) the opportunity for material transformation and rewards based on performance and merit, rather than on tradition and familial identification.

That individual identity and national identity may be tied both psychological and politically to notions of home is not unusual, but some sense of moral characterisation should in some way be tied to notions of nationalism, economic enterprise and geographical imagination, but also developed alongside our understanding of the modern individual, as one that is autonomous and in charge of his own destiny.
56 However, there is a disconnect between this individual and the world, which sends the individual on a search for meaning, moral purpose, or a relationship that can ease the ‘broken’ bond of modernity: Just as the [novel] genre charts the progress from the anomie of youth to a meaningful life, first in civil society and then the state, the nation-state also offers an antidote to modernity’s upheaval.’ 57
The idea of a straightforward connection between self and world is broken in the novel.

The world in we live now in a globalised world, where passports are ubiquitous, political nationality changeable and moral identity easily adapted to the environment in which we live. No longer are we defined by the distance we can walk or even the distance we can fly will. Our identity can also be ubiquitous, transformable and transferable.Our identities weere once closely defined by our nationality, by the language we speak, and the laws that we keep, but in our globalised environment, we become chameleon creatures. Not that this is necessarily new, as a reading of the history of the 18th and 19th centuries would show, and even if we went back to Roman times, our identity may not necessarily be defined by where we come from, or even with whom we live. Changez' predictability, his "solidness" as a charcaracter is relative to where and what he stands for at a moment in time so that we as readers can hold him to account for his views, his perceptions of others and ultimately his actions. By the end of the novel, Changez is perhaps on the threshold of taking action, but is it his hand on the gun or on the knife that we feel? Or is he driven by the need to feel secure, to experience a predicatability that his conscience will not let him feel?