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Symbolism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Critical Analysis

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Imagine receiving a scholarship from one of the best university’s in the world, Princeton University with visa, complete financial aid and live your rest of your life in America with a dream job? Well, Changez, the main character from The Reluctant Fundamentalist attends Princeton with a full scholarship, visa and complete financial aid but in the end, he moves back to his home country, Lahore. The novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is written by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid was his second book published in his writing career, published in 2007. He has written multiple novels during his writing career such as his first book Moth Smoke, Exist West, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Discontent and Its Civilizations. The author uses a technique Frame Story which takes place in an outdoor Café in Lahore with an American Stranger in one single evening. Changez tells a story about his life as a Uni Student in America, and eventually the abandonment of America. While the novel goes on, the author uses many symbolisms throughout the story, which most is used to give a critique of the American Society. In many novels, symbolism is often used to signify ideas and qualities. Generally, it is an object representing another, to give an entirely different meaning that is much deeper and more significant which Hamid does very well in. Hamid uses symbolism such as Changez’s Beard, a representation of how the westerns looks at the eastern, the relationship between Erica which represents the relationship between the eastern and western society as a whole, Underwood Samson a representation of the American economy, the American Society, and the American Empire, and the event of Nine/Eleven, representing Nostalgia and how America reacts to nostalgia and Nine/Eleven.

Firstly, the main symbolism utilized by Hamid is Underwood Samson. Underwood Samson, a symbolism representing the US (Underwood Samson), and the American puissance, the American Economy, and the American Dream. In all, it represents the American Imperium, a tribe and as a Janissary. Throughout the novel, we first encounter Underwood Samson during the 2nd page of Chapter One. “I was confident of getting any job I wanted. Except for one: Underwood Samson & Company”. By reading this, we only see the glimpse of Underwood Samson, a company that’s quite arduous to get a job at, but we later see Changez gets offered the job at Underwood Samson. During his time, Underwood Samson seems like a perfect meritocracy, alimenting its employees a version of the American Dream: if they work hard, they’ll be rewarded. For example, he has been rewarded these things from Underwood Samson for his first work assignment to the Philippines. For his first Underwood Samson Assignment, he had flown in first class. He expresses “I will never forget the feeling of reclining in my seat, clad in my suit, as I was served champagne by an attractive and-yes, I was indeed so brazen as to allow myself to believe – flirtatious flight attendant. I was in my own eyes, veritable James Bond – only younger, darker, and possibly better paid”. We see here Underwood Samson letting Changez fly in first class and getting accommodated champagne as if he is James Bond. The author utilizes Underwood Samson, representing America, what the world is inspired by, the America they all dream about. Hamid uses Underwood Samson to give a critique of the American Society and how they lure people in by giving the glimpse of the American dream they all want, but this is only the glimpse of America. Later in the novel, the major turning point for Changez and Underwood Samson, Changez meets Juan-Batista in Chile for his Work assignment. The conversation Changez has with Juan-Batista is the key conversation in which Changes realises what the true Underwood Samson is, the avaricious imperium they are. From chapter 10 while Juan-Batista and Changez are having a seat in the streets of Valparaiso, Juan-Batista asks Changez, “Have you heard of the Janissaries?” “No,” I said. “They were Christian boys,” he explained, “captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at the time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to.” This conversation between two is what had Changez question himself of what he was into. The statement made by Juan-Batista points out the US and their imperium. Underwood Samson, capturing people from different countries, such as Changez. They were starkly allegiant, withal same as Underwood Samson, back when Changez flew first class for his first work assignment. He realises he is becoming a servant and working for a company that spreads power throughout the world through its greediness, materialism and cruel asset management. All this utilized by Hamid is a symbolism in which it gives a critique of the American society and how they are an imperium, a janissary, a tribe which lures and captures people in by being utterly loyal, which what the Americans do to become the “greatest army in the world”. While Hamid uses other symbolism such as Erica and his beard, Underwood Samson is the most immensely colossal symbolism used throughout the story as Hamid shows and gives a critique of the American society, the modern-day American Janissary and how it lures in people by being starkly allegiant and exhibiting the American Dream.

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Another major symbolism utilized by Hamid is Erica. Erica represents America as the word “Erica” is within the word “America”. The relationship between Changez and Erica is the symbolism which represents the relationship between America and the eastern countries while it additionally represents Erica’s past glory, her ex-boyfriend’s relationship Chris and America’s past glory during Second World War. Hamid’s utilization of Erica as a symbol for America accommodates to reveal insight into the nostalgia America as a nation entered after the Nine/Eleven. We first encounter Erica when Changez goes to the vacation in Greece after they had graduated. When Changez meets Erica he expresses, “When I first saw Erica, I could not avert myself from offering to carry her back-pack – so stunningly regal she was”. This illustrates an image of Erica that she is a beautiful woman and how Changez was attracted by her appearance which additionally represents America and how it also attracts foreigners to their country, by exhibiting them what they want and not showing their true self. While the story goes on, Erica keeps contemplating Chris, Erica’s ex-boyfriend which is visually perceived as nostalgia. Hamid’s utilization of the symbol of Erica to represent America creates a parallel connection between her nostalgia for a bygone past with that of America’s psyche after the Nine/Eleven event which represents the nostalgia in the context of a nation’s experience. After the event of Nine/Eleven, it is clear the symbolism utilized by Hamid comes into play. “I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its tenacity to look back. Living in Incipient York was suddenly like living in a film about the Second World War”. This quote from Chapter 8 illustrates the aftermath of Nine/Eleven in which we saw American society with a spike of nostalgia and patriotism. Hamid additionally characterizes Erica as a symbol of America to emphasize his views and criticisms of America in its pursuit to global dominance. Like Erica, America was also suffering from dangerous obsession with the past glory, in which Changez described it as “Nostalgia was their crack cocaine.” The use of Erica’s nostalgia and its parallel representation of America engenders a critique of the American society and how it looks back to the past glory of world domination during Second World War.

Another symbolism utilized in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the fall of the twin towers. Even though this was a real-life event, Hamid utilizes this event as a symbolism to give a critique of the American Society post Nine/Eleven and how the Americans stereotype one another. Afore Nine/Eleven, according to Changez, everything had been going great while experiencing sundry forms of “soft” racism such as Erica relishing Changez because he is “different”, and his vacation friends find him as an “exotic pet”. But after Nine/Eleven, Changez realizes there has been a spike of racism and patriotism. One example is when he got held by the security Airport in Chapter 5. He explains, “In the end I was dispatched for a secondary inspection in a room where I sat on a metal bench next to a tattooed man in handcuffs,” illustrates that Changez was treated like a tattooed man in handcuffs because he originates from an Eastern culture. Other racist events against Muslims had occurred, such as Changez notes in the start of Chapter 6, “Pakistani cab drivers were being beaten to within an inch of their lives; the FBI was raiding mosques, shops, and even people’s houses; Muslim men were disappearing, perhaps into shadowy detention centers for questioning or worse.” These Anti-Muslim events that were done by the Americans pellucidly show how the Americans reacted towards the fall of the Twin Towers which was done by a Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Another event which was directed at Changez was in Chapter 8 when two fellow Americans had called Changez a “Fucking Arab.” This had Changez furious as he clearly stated before he is a Pakistani, not an Arab. Not only this but in Chapter 9, Wainwright advice Changez to shave off his beard as he explains, “I don’t ken what’s up with the beard, but I don’t think it’s making you mister popular here.” This statement made by Wainwright, his colleague, shows how people surrounding Changez stereotype him as an Arab. This shows how Americans are stereotyping other people by their appearance. Hamid utilizes these events to criticize the American Society and how it reacts and stereotypes towards foreigners. Hamid’s utilization of the fall of the Twin Towers and the Anti-Muslim events had created a critique of the American Society around Muslims and how they stereotype them as dangerous.

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Symbolism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Critical Analysis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/symbolism-in-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-critical-analysis/
“Symbolism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/symbolism-in-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-critical-analysis/
Symbolism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/symbolism-in-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-critical-analysis/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Symbolism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/symbolism-in-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-critical-analysis/
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