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Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist Discussion Questions

1. In Hamid’s novel, who are we meant to see as the “fundamentalists”? The word “fundamental” frequently enters the novel when Changez relates his experience at Underwood Samson, a place where his coworkers are driven by a single-minded commitment to the “fundamentals,” “a single-minded attention to financial detail” (98). The mantra “Focus on the fundamentals,” Changez tells his audience, was “Underwood Samson’s guiding principle, drilled into us since our first day at work” (98). By using the language of fundamentalism when discussing an American corporation, is Hamid urging readers to consider their conceptions of the classification of “fundamentalists”? Are there any other “fundamentalist” groups in the novel?


2. In a 2007 Entertainment Weekly interview, interviewer Jennifer Reese asked Hamid about the significance of Changez’s name. Hamid responded: “Many America reviewers said it meant ‘changes.’ But it's the Urdu name for Genghis, the Mongol conqueror who attacked the Muslim world. And with this name Changez can't really be a religious fundamentalist” (Entertainment Weekly). Based on the text, can we agree with Hamid’s assessment of Changez’s character? If Changez is not a religious fundamentalist, in what way is he a fundamentalist? Does Hamid challenge a reader’s possible notion of fundamentalism, and if so, is this done successfully?


3. Throughout the semester, some of our discussions of our readings have dealt with the idea of privilege in 9/11 fiction. This is the first novel that we have read in which the narrator is not an American. Even still, Changez makes it a point to establish his social status in the novel. Changez “indulg[es] in a minor digression” to inform his audience that he is not poor in terms of status, although he is poor in terms of wealth (9). What is the purpose of his continuous insistence on class and his attention to wealth? How are we to reconcile his class consciousness with his later “fundamentalism” (if that’s a fair term to use for his behavior)?


4. Regarding realism: In Hamid’s interview with Singh, Hamid goes on to say that manipulating the realist form in the way that he does “allows for relationships with the readers to open up,” and that “it creates echoes and dissonances and a jangling in the reading.” So, to repeat a question that Hamid rhetorically asks within the interview, “How do you read the text?...how do you interpret this, how do you read this, how do you position yourself truly?” Is there a way for us to determine which narrative is “real”? Do we find one narrative to be more “real” than the other?


5. In the novel, there seem to be two characters that could be said to “embody” America. One is Erica, whose name even seems to originate from (Am)erica. On p. 114-115 of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Erica is explicitly compared to America. Changez says, “it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia at that time.” Is Erica meant to be a stand-in for America throughout the novel? If so, is she an accurate comparison? Although she has suffered a severe relapse in the section quoted above, she has also exhibited nostalgic and depressive tendencies in the past. Given that her suffering has been ongoing from the outset of the novel, is Erica an effective allegorical representation of America? If so, how do her past sufferings equate to previous American trauma?


6. The American stranger could also “embody” America. The American is described in a possibly stereotypical way, with “short-cropped” hair and an “expansive chest” which are “typical of a certain type of American”; however, Changez goes on to identify the ambiguous idea of the American’s “bearing” as the aspect that marks him as truly American (2). The American’s “bearing” is vague and never explained, perhaps allowing the American to sufficiently stand in for an entire country. Though his bearing is never explained, the American is described in ways that suggest almost constant vigilance. He is formal, taciturn, suspicious, and jumpy. Is the novel suggesting that Americam nostalgia (Erica) been traded for hyper vigilance (the American)? Although Hamid seems to have written a deliberately ambiguous ending, do we have any consensus on how to read the events that conclude the novel? Does the American allow himself to be lulled into a false sense of security? Is Changez untrustworthy? How do we reconcile Changez’s two voices? If the American can, in fact, be read as a representative of America, how could his role be allegorically interpreted?