Dr. Dee Horne
March 27th, 2017
Character Identity and the Physical Landscape in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Identity, in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a concept that Changez struggles with as his geographical landscape is threatened by political tensions.
One’s identity is often closely related to the landscape where a person is raised. It is created through cultural upbringing, morals and values that are taught as well as the religious beliefs where someone is raised. Identity is by definition of Oxford Dictionaries, “the characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is”. One of those characteristics is landscape, “all the visible features of an area of land, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal” (Oxford Dictionaries). Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist has a constantly changing landscape that reflects the identity crisis Changez finds himself undergoing as he progresses through his early twenties as a college student in the United States during the turmoil of 9/11.
Chnagez is a character who struggles to figure out who he is in relation to the world around him. This can be seen in his struggle with his relationship to Erica as well as his loyalty to his country, Pakistan, and being in America during the upheaval of American cultural and identity. “One’s identities are composed of the self-views that emerge from the reflexive activity of self-categorization or identification in terms of membership in particular groups or roles” (Burke and Stets 225-226). For Changez this means that his identity is constantly in crisis because he struggles to self-categorize himself in America. At the start of the novel he proudly describes where he is from to Jim:
I said I was from Lahore, the second largest city of Pakistan, ancient capital of the Punjab, home to nearly as many people as New York, layered like a sedimentary plain with the accreted history of invaders from the Aryans to the Mongols to the British (Hamid 7).
In the above quotation, it can be seen that Changez is still firmly proud of his identity and heritage as a man who is from Pakistan. He talks about the landscape and its rich history. However, not long after this he becomes confused about his identity in America. In Lahore, Changez knew who he was but once he was in America, everything he thought he knew about himself and his upbringing changes. “I had returned to Pakistan, but my inhabitation of your country had not entirely ceased” (Hamid 172). Changez’s identity changed during his course in America and as such, even when he finally returned home he was not the person that he used to be.
Landscape plays a key role in The Reluctant Fundamentalist as the antagonist that upsets Changez’s sense of identity. Langmen writes that “Landscape has become and expression and an index of diversity – not merely the background to is but a substantial element of the distinctively local life” (Langman 35). This means that landscape influences that characters in the novel greatly:
Landscape enters the American novel as an image of the unknown, the undiscovered country into which the explorer plunges to find, at the end, himself; and in the journey of exploration or the fight from pursuit, in the person of the hunter or the fugitive (Langman 35).
Langman shows just how important landscape is to identity, especially in an American novel or a novel that takes place in America. For Changez, being in America changes his identity, “I realized [this] was another world from Pakistan; supporting my feet were the achievements of the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever known” (Hamid 34). Changez understands the influence that America has not just on himself but other people as well and he reflects on how it makes him feel, “Often, during my stay in your country, such comparisons troubled me. In fact, they did more than trouble me: they made me resentful” (Hamid 34). Changez grows more resentful towards America and confused about himself after the attack on the twin towers.
The moment that New York’s World Trade Center collapses, Changez ceases to be a person that he is familiar with. His identity shifts as he is suddenly treated as a person of high suspicion in a country that was friendly to him before. Just before the attack is seen on the news, Changez remarks that “I was the only non-American in our group, but I suspected my Pakistaniness was invisible, cloaked by my suit, by my expense account, and—most of all—by my companions” (Hamid 71). His American appearance, money and company took away his Pakistani identity. The attack on the twin towers brought it back by making him an outcast and a fear in American society. “Landscapes always contain an appeal to a collective identity, not only in literature but in all publicly shared symbolic forms” (Larsen 469). The more Changez tries to hide his identity, the more confused he becomes, especially during the possibility of war between the two nations that he identifies himself with.
Changez feels a strong loyalty to his own country, it is a place where he was born, where his family is and where he identifies his home as being. However, the cultural upbringing that shapes his identity from this landscape threatens him when he goes to America, especially when tensions are high between America and the Middle East.
I spent the night considering what I had become. There really could be no doubt: I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war (Hamid 152).
Being born to a Middle Eastern nation but working for and receiving education in America, Changez’s identity becomes confused. He feels loyal to his home country, Pakistan, but also to his life that he has created in America with Erica and Underwood Samson.
His identity is most noticeably threatened when he returns home for the first time after being in America for many years. When he returns home he does not notice the place where he group up as nostalgic, but rather he sees it as run down and almost shameful, going so far as to call how he views everything as being American. “There are adjustments one must make if one comes here from America; a different way of observing is required” (Hamid 124) which shows how landscape effects one’s identity. “I recall the Americanness of my own gaze when I returned to Lahore….I was struck first by how shabby out house appeared….I was ashamed. This was where I came from” (Hamid 124). Changez is ashamed of how America has effected who he is and how he sees the place that he grew up in, especially with the threat of war bothering him constantly
In conclusion, geographical landscapes have a strong impact on one’s sense of self-identity. Identity is created through different influences in one’s life, be it political, geographical, religious beliefs or moral values that are installed by family. Changez’s own identity is threatened by his life in America. He becomes confused about who he is in wake of looming tension between America and Afghanistan. Changez is also conflicted about his appearance as a Pakistani man in an American society, at first he accepts his culture by wearing more traditional clothing to dinner with Erica’s family but later rejects his identity by becoming unidentifiable from an American citizen. With the attack on the World Trade Center, he feels conflicted about his relationship with America. It is a county that he respects and then it threatens war on a country that is very similar to his own. Being in America causes Changez an enormous amount of distress and even when he returns home, he still feels that he is still apart of America because of the relationships that he has created there.
Discussion Question: Considering today’s global affairs in the Middle East, how has Canadian identity and landscape changed in relation to immigration?
identity. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 26 March 2017.
landscape Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 26 April 2017
Langman, Fred. “Landscape and Identity in the American Novel.” American Studies
International, vol. 16, no. 4, 1978, pp. 34–47.
Larsen, Svend Erik. “Landscape, Identity, and War.” New Literary History, vol. 35, no. 3, 2004, 469–490.
Stets, Jan E., and Peter J. Burke. “Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory.” Social
Psychology Quarterly, vol. 63, no. 3, 2000, pp. 224–237.
Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. First Mariner Books. 2008. Print.