Write a paragraph on one of the least obvious symbols in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. What ideas or values does it symbolise? 

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For me, one of the most significant and yet rather obscure symbols in the novel is the character of Erica. She is rather a complex symbol and rather subtle in the way that Hamid uses her. Firstly, she seems to represent the American Dream for Changez. He is attracted to her and she represents to him everything that is good and beautiful about America. However, at the same time, as the novel progresses, he comes to realise how increasingly elusive his relationship with Erica is. Even when she is happy to acknowledge him as her consort, she is always, in her heart of hearts, not able to connect with him and is in love with another. The way that she fades out of the protagonist's life symbolises the ephemeral nature of the American Dream and also the impossibility of somebody like Changez becoming American.

Secondly, Erica is used to suggest the fragility of America itself. It is significant that her decline only really begins after 9/11, eventually culminating in her disappearance. Given this symbolic meaning, the comments Changez makes about her novella, and the lack of his mention in it, are rather fascinating:

But I had begun to understand that she had chosen not to be part of my story; her own had proven too compelling, and she was--at that moment and in her own way--following it to its conclusion, passing through places I could not reach.

There is a sense in which Erica and her narrative of self-sufficiency represents the complex nature of America that is, on the surface at least, so competent and inherently strong, and yet, if this surface is penetrated a chaotic and confusing gamut of feelings, neuroses and fears are exposed. By realising Erica's own story was "too compelling," Changez simultaneously realises that he was never going to be part of her story, or America's story, and also that America, just like Erica, comprised of many contradictions and paradoxes.

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