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Agenda Through Mimesis, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Throughout history, the understanding of a piece of literature through a mimetic approach has not been an uncommon method of study. This focus, however, is not as common in modernity, let alone for works written less than a decade ago. However, I would argue that looking at Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist with the concept of mimesis in mind offers an interesting look into the characters presented within the novel, with an emphasis on the possibility of a larger agenda presented by the character of Changez.

As Sir Philip Sidney offers in his The Defense of Poesy, “Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in the word mimesis – that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth – to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture – wit this end, to teach and delight” (Sidney. 217), mimesis is a form of imitation of what is real or natural. It might seem unrelated to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, as the work is seemingly completely first person narrative of a Changez's past. However, looking at the work through a mimetic lense would allow for an argument that every character aside from the elder Changez and the white stranger are fabricated. While the characters and places Changez mentions might truly exist, the way in which Changez tells his story, as well as what is at stake as speaker, creates doubt for his reliability as narrator.

Changez, throughout the narration of his possible life story, frequently calls into question the validity of his own words. For example, Changez does so on two occasions:

“But your expression, sir, tells me that you think something is amiss. Did this conversation really happen, you ask? For that matter, did this so-called Jaun-Bautista even exist. I assure you sir,: you can trust me. I am not in the habit of inventing untruths! And moreover, even if I were, there is no reason why this incident would be more likely to be false than any of the others I have related to you.” (Hamid. 152)

“I see from your expression that you do not believe me. No matter, I am confident of the truth of my words.” (181)

Although Changez claims to be truthful, the fact that Hamid places this doubt within the story is interesting. From a story told in present tense and in a very intimate style, the reader would have very little reason to distrust Changez. However, coupling these implementations of possible doubt with the overly coincidental characters in the work allows for the possibility of fabrication to be furthered.

Regardless of whether or not the characters of Erica and Jim truly exist, they are fabricated through Changez's story for his own agenda as narrator. It would be impossible for any one narrator to convey true and specific conversation over the course of years. In this way, it can be assumed that much of the dialogue that Erica and Jim state throughout the work are fabricated by Changez. However, their coincidental existences create a stark contrast to Changez's own character in his work; a contrast that positively reflects on the older Changez's pro-Pakistan agenda while talking to the white stranger. The Erica presented in the work starts as almost an obsession of Changez, “As for myself, that summer in Greece with Erica, I tried not to stare. But towards the end of our holiday, on the island of Rhodes, I could not help myself” (23). This continues much in the same way until the 9/11 attacks, in which Erica slips into a heavy depression, and cuts herself out of Changez's life. Erica, until her depression, seems to represent America for Changez. The naming of Erica (AmErica), as well as self-destruction coinciding perfectly with the tragedy of 9/11, creates an almost too-perfect seeming coincidental situation. Likewise, Jim, being one of the more successful members of Underwood Samson offers another extreme coincidence for the novel. As one of the more powerful members of a valuation firm, sharing the same initials as the United States, who focuses solely on the worth of businesses, Jim can be seen as a representation of the monetarily “hungry”, a term used often in the work, member of the United States. Through describing Erica's self-destruction and Jim's hunger as representation of America, the older Changez is qualifying his pro-Pakistan beliefs to the white stranger. Whether or not Erica and Jim truly exist matters less than the fact that they are fabrications, regardless. Through this fabrication, seemingly to qualify Changez's choices in his narrated past, the concept of mimesis is represented. This becomes even more interesting when the elder Changez fabricates himself in his story.

Much like how the elder Changez creates Erica and Jim to fulfill an agenda, he fabricates a younger version of himself to achieve precisely the same end. For a younger version of a character who speaks without pause for roughly 184 pages, young Changez speaks surprisingly infrequently. Although we are offered the luxury of young Changez's thoughts, his speech is usually in response to others, rather than initiating conversation. This is interesting, as when the younger Changez is compared to the old, who actively sought out the white stranger and began the monologue, the two seem almost in stark contrast. However, because the young Changez exists for the reader simply in the elder Changez's story, regardless of if it is true or not, he represents an imitation of the original Changez. Through this imitation, another agenda is achieved – Changez wants to represent that it wasn't until he left America that he gained his literal voice. Although coincidental characters as well as the possible fabrication of his own past are important as primary examples, the possible reasoning behind Changez's use of mimesis to create an optimal past for retelling is far more telling.

Although seemingly peaceful, Changez's story and asides often show signs of subtle aggression, which, when compared with the above examples of fabrication, only adds to the possibility of an overarching agenda to Changez's story. Although it might not seem like the stranger says anything throughout the work, as the piece is entirely in Changez's voice, he attempts to. Often, Hamid exchanges the stranger's words for Changez's with tactics such as having Changez say “Ah, I see I have alarmed you” (1) or “I spent four and a half years in your country. Where? I worked in New York...” (2). In this way, Hamid allows for dialogue without having two people speak. This absence of two-sided conversation is alarming, as the stranger doesn't not speak. His words are just repressed. Likewise, it becomes clear that Changez knows more about the stranger than he lets on. For example, Changez begins the work by stating “Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be to be on a mission” (1), and continues by stating tiny insults to America, often hidden in pleasantries. Likewise, towards the very end of the work, Changez states:

“Perhaps you are convinced that I am an inveterate liar, or perhaps you are under the impression that we are being pursued... yes, those men are now rather close, and yes, the expression on the face of that one – what a coincidence; it is our waiter - he has offered me a nod of recognition – is rather grim... It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.” (182).

This is important because Changez knows that the stranger “found some of my views offensive” (184). Changez sought the man out and initiated a conversation that was coincidentally pro-Pakistan, while simultaneously offering offensive asides to the American. These statements, coupled with Changez's own repetition of the possible falseness of his story previously, creates the idea that Changez is toying with the stranger, openly assuming he knows him far more than the stranger realizes.

It can be assumed that, should Changez have a self-serving pro-Pakistan agenda when speaking to the American, that regardless of whether or not they truly exist, Erica, Jim, and his younger self were all fabricated versions of themselves – imitations to serve an agenda. Through a mimetic reading of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the already questionable ending to the work is made far more complicated when the story as a whole is presented by the possibly untrustworthy narrator of the elder Changez.

Sidney, Philip, and Albert Feuillerat. The Complete Works of Sir Philip Sidney ..Cambridge, Eng.: UP, 1912. Print.