The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

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Discuss Hamid’s use of extended monologue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. How it makes this story engaging but leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.

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Changez is an engaging raconteur, and he seems to me to be fairly reliable because he openly shares feelings. For example, he openly shares the feelings he experienced after the attacks on September 11, 2001, which he knows will be unpopular with his American listener. Though the speech of others—the American to whom Changez speaks, the waiter, etc.—is implied, it is never stated directly, adding to our feeling that Changez is very much in control of this situation. He seems to realize, early on, why this American is there, that he is carrying a firearm, that he seems like someone in the military, and so forth. He even refers to the night as one that has great significance: this is not a chance encounter. His comment that Pakistanis must not assume that all Americans are "assassins" also supports the conclusion that Changez knows who the American is and what he is there to do.

Changez even mentions his "soft skills" training at Underwood Samson, where he was taught to recognize another person's agenda and redirect it; his skillful monologues seem to do just that. They humanize him and confuse his audience which, perhaps, has already drawn certain conclusions about Changez that may be fundamentally incorrect. In the end, we can only know what Changez tells us, and that leaves us with some unanswered questions, though I believe he does answer, if obliquely, more than it seems.

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The technique of the dramatic monologue used by Hamid in the novel strongly implicates the reader in the story as Changez speaks directly to us and we find ourselves in the position of the American he is talking to. As with all dramatic monologues, however, The Reluctant Fundamentalist also makes us identify our point of view with Changez himself as we see his story exclusively through his eyes. This begs the question of how reliable Changez is as narrator. At the end of the novel, we are also left with several questions regarding the identity of the American and the purpose of the meeting. Is the American a Marlowe who has come for his Kurtz to use the Heart of Darkness analogy suggested in the novel? Or is he in the opposite condition of being chased by the reluctant fundamentalist Changez? As the two are strolling through the city of Lahore at night after their dinner, Changez says that when he goes for nocturnal walks he is sometimes reminded of "the sound of those spectral clip-clops" in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

One cannot but join in the terror of poor Ichabod Crane, alone on his horse, in that moment when he first perceives the presence of the Headless Horseman (p. 194, Penguin books paperback edition)

It is not clear who is in this situation, whether it is Changez or the American listener. Changez's final statement that the American should not assume all Pakistanis are terrorist, just like Changez's should not assume all Americans are undercover agents all but reinforces the ambiguity on the possible conclusion of the evening.

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