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ENGL 115W Study Guide - Final Guide: Critical Role

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Susan Brook
Study Guide

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist
: Alienation
In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
, Changez goes to America in
pursuit of the “American dream” and attempts to find his place there, only to ultimately become
alienated. This alienation is due to his feelings toward America, as well as America’s response to
him. Initially, Changez appears to have a very good relationship with America; he loves America
for the opportunities for power and status it offers him. Awarded for his hard work at Princeton
and managing to obtain a well-paying job at Underwood Samson, he feels that “everything [is]
possible” (3). In Manila, he tries “to act and speak, as much as [his] dignity would permit, more
like an American,” showing that he does not see himself as an American; instead, he is someone
who wants to prove, not only to others, but to himself, that he is
American (65). Here, he clearly
displays his desire to fit into American society. However, Changez soon learns that despite his
views of America as a nation that has “the potential to transform [his] life… making [his]
concerns about money and status things of the distant past,” he feels powerless because there is
nothing he can do about the “weakness” of the nations of the East (14, 128). He is ashamed of
this relative weakness, noting that “America had universities with individual endowments greater
than [Pakistan’s] nation budget for education” (34). This sense of shame drives him further from
America, causing him to feel “much closer to the Filipino driver” than to his colleague, who
appears “foreign” during a business trip (67).
America clearly plays a critical role in the estrangement of Changez, particularly after
9/11. 9/11 functions as a catalyst for his disconnection from America, which causes him to
become increasingly isolated. In seeing the collapse of the twin towers, Changez’s immediate
reaction is to smile - to feel “remarkably pleased” (72). This reaction to 9/11 - an event in which
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