The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Essay Practice 3 - Nostalgia

Gap-fill exercise

Fill in all the gaps, then press "Check" to check your answers.
   American      balanced      Changez      Chris      competitive      detached      determination      economic      Erica      finding common ground      fundamentalism      fundamentals      harassment      identity      injustices      longing      loss of wealth      narrative      nostalgia      Pakistan      past      perspective      preoccupation      present      readers      recreate      re-evaluate his relationship      reluctantly      retrospective      ruthlessness      self-made man      social elite      surface      to embrace and escape the past      undesirable      unhealthy      Valparaiso      vulnerable to disappointment      Western      world view   
Question: ‘The text suggests that while a preoccupation with the past can be harmful, a focus on the present can be just as damaging.’ Do you agree?

Hamid’s novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", without a doubt, explores the dangerous nature of . Much of the novel is set in the with each story interrupted by references to the present where , a Pakistani migrant to America relays his story to an unknown American. Changez is torn between trying to recreate his past and his desire to become an American. Due to forces out of his control, such as the events of 9/11, Changez has no choice but to reflect on the past and recreate his once again. Hamid demonstrates how loss can lead to an nostalgia but also how a focus on the present can lead people to a narrow , one that enables them to survive but at a great cost.

Hamid demonstrates how nostalgia is used as a way of coping with an present. Changez tells the story of his family’s in Pakistan and admits that for his parents nostalgia was their ‘crack cocaine’. Changez, too, is guilty of nostalgia but he seeks to solve the problem and resolves to ‘pretend all is well and work hard to restore things to what they were.’ A with reliving the past leads Changez to ‘lack a stable core’. His efforts to the past are inevitably at odds with his desire to become an and this is made evident most strongly through his relationship with . It is as though America; Princeton, ‘a dream come true’ and Erica, ‘stunningly regal’, romance Changez. His commentary as he speaks to the American in the present suggest that he ignored the ‘cracks’ in favour of adopting a new identity and thus made himself and rejection that followed.

The dangers of living in the past are also evident through the character of Erica, a young member of America’s . Her preoccupation with her young love, who has died years earlier leaves her from reality. Whilst Erica remains stuck in her past, Changez seeks to begin a relationship with her in the . Like his relationship with America, he chooses to believe what he sees on the and ignores the warning signs that Erica is still for her past. When Changez witnesses Erica’s isolation after 9/11 he says, ‘I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its to look back’. This preoccupation with the past is contagious. Although Changez moves forward in some ways, he also remains ‘emotionally entwined’ with Erica on his return to . His family are unaware of this part of his identity that will always be connected to his experiences in America and with Erica. Even his efforts to campaign for a more independent Pakistan are overshadowed by a part of him that is trying to be seen by Erica, and in turn, America that rejected him.

Hamid’s novel is a criticism of , particularly fundamentalism in American society. The importance of the present and the future is at the core of Underwood Samson’s identity. For Jim, Changez’s manager, a , a ‘focus on the fundamentals’ and a commitment to maximum efficiency is imperative. This is immediately apparent when we are first introduced to Jim and the rigorous interview process that Changez is put through. The ‘Twenty Questions’ are a way of testing Changez’s commitment to the . Changez likens the mental state that he has to achieve to answer these questions to when he played soccer when ‘my self seemed to disappear’. In order to succeed in the system, Changez must focus on the present; even it means losing a part of himself.

Changez is forced by the events of 9/11 to with the past. His smile as the twin towers fall makes it difficult for to sympathise with him, but the seeks to explain his response. The events that follow, including his at the airport on his return from Manila and the of Underwood Samson as they continue to downsize companies and ‘focus on the fundamentals’ perhaps lead the reader to sympathise more strongly with Changez. His trip to is a major turning point in his relationship with Underwood Samson. The meeting of Juan Bautista and a powerful story from the past about the janissaries lead Changez to a point of no return. He begins to identify with the janissaries and view himself as ‘a servant of the American Empire’. He focuses on the past and the he feels that the world have committed against Pakistan. Here, a focus on the past is crucial to Changez recovering a strong sense of identity, which could be seen as beneficial rather than harmful. Hamid, suggests, though, that Changez simply replaces one brand of fundamentalism for another albeit .

Hamid has stated that in the post 9/11 world ‘we are encouraged to lose our sense of ’. The novel suggests the importance of having a relationship between past and present. Hamid shows how both East and West lose perspective as they seek . Through his novel, Hamid is offering another perspective and challenges Western readers to recognise the flaws of fundamentalism of any nature and the importance of understanding .