How does Mohsin Hamid present the idea of needing to escape the past in The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hamid demonstrates the need to escape the past through his characterizations of Erica and America: Erica is trapped in a past vision of love; America fled to a past vision of might.

Erica is trapped in her past with Chris.  She is shown to be incapable of letting her past relationship go, and this is the reason that she cannot be emotionally connected to Changez: she is in love with a ghost.  Her fixation with Chris even after his death underscores the novel's theme that everyone needs to escape the past.  Hamid suggests that individuals cannot find contentment in the present when holding on to memories from the past.  Through Erica, it becomes clear that the past can often be used as a crutch to avoid dealing with the present.  As a result of avoidance of dealing with present situations, Erica struggles emotionally.  Her challenges with what had already taken place are a contributing factor in her suicide.

It is interesting to note the linguistic similarities between Erica and America.  Hamid sees a struggle regarding the past in both constructions.  The novel displays how America struggles with the present after the attacks of September 11.  Hamid suggests that America retreated into a past vision of itself.  America viewed itself as it was during the triumph of World War II.  The advance into Afghanistan was executed as an extension of this retreat into a past reality.  This flight into the past was a response to the uncertainty in America's war against terrorism.  As with Erica, an inability to find contentment in the present causes flight into the past and prevents an open dialogue about the present and future. Both Erica and America display an unhealthy attachment to the past in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  They represent the importance of escaping that which has already taken place in order to find happiness in the present and future.

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