In what way does the relationship between Erica and Changez in The Reluctant Fundamentalist symbolize the relationship between the United States and Pakistan?

Changez and Erica's doomed romance reflects the strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, as well as the US's inability to cope with 9/11.

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Changez and Erica are rather blatant stand-ins for Pakistan and the United States (Erica's name is even a shortened version of "America"), and their doomed romance reflects the strained relations between the US and Pakistan.

When first coming to the United States, Changez is initially besotted with Erica. He does...

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Changez and Erica are rather blatant stand-ins for Pakistan and the United States (Erica's name is even a shortened version of "America"), and their doomed romance reflects the strained relations between the US and Pakistan.

When first coming to the United States, Changez is initially besotted with Erica. He does his best to seem more American in regards to cultural behavior and perspective, not just so he can have greater career success, but also so he can win Erica's affections. Erica is rich, beautiful, and talented, seemingly an ideal partner. However, as the two grow closer, the more dysfunctional elements of Erica's character become blatant.

Like the US, Erica lives in the past. She yearns for Chris, a dead lover, and is unable to be truly present with Changez, even when they are making love. Erica's loss arguably parallels America's inability to cope with 9/11 and all its implications regarding its invulnerability and international power. Like Pakistan, Changez tries to emulate American values and behavior, but he is never truly accepted into that milieu. He cannot replace the idealized Chris, so Erica detaches herself from him, and from reality itself, eventually leading to her institutionalization. Changez eventually re-embraces his traditional Pakistani culture, trying his best to live in the present as it is.

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In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez symbolizes Pakistan and Erica symbolizes America. The beginning of their relationship is written to be unfazed by racial tensions that traditionally burden interracial relationships. Rather the major issue is Erica's inability to move forward from her ex. She is unable to move forward completely from her tragedy to a full relationship with Changez; perhaps this is symbolic of America's obsession with 9/11 and the country's inability to move forward. The country has been incapable of acknowledging and changing the racial tensions, prejudice, and historical trauma that were brought about in the aftermath of 9/11. The representation of this fraught relationship is Chris, the ex who is never quite let go of or forgotten.

During an attempt to move their relationship to the next step and partly due to his complete infatuation and love for Erica, Changez suggests she pretend that he is Chris. Changez's (i.e. Pakistan's) pursuit of the American dream highlights the symbolic importance of this moment. He is accepted into parts of America, such as at work and in education. However, he cannot ever fully become another "Chris," who is written as a never forgotten true love of Erica. Erica ultimately fades out of the story as Changez becomes more occupied with work. She is institutionalized after a mental breakdown and disappears into a type of nostalgia, possibly culminating in suicide. Their relationship symbolizes an inability to accept actual changes, which mirrors the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

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It becomes clear that Erica is still in love with Chris, her boyfriend of some time who passed away from cancer before Erica ever met Changez. She is unable to make love with Changez because, it seems to him, her body rejects him, and so the next time they try, he tells her to imagine that he is Chris. She simply cannot move on from the past. Something similar happens to America after the events that took place on 9/11: America could not seem to grasp the changing nature of the world and continued to see itself as a superpower who could not and would never be injured or "brought to its knees" as Changez says. America wanted to continue to be the America of the past, before the tragedy took place, and so it went rampaging through the world, causing a ton of damage in an attempt to reclaim its former image and glory. Just as Erica is stuck and cannot seem to move on, cannot change with the times (as Jim tells Changez is so necessary to life), Changez is able to conceptualize the new state of the world and to accept its changes. Erica disappears, like the America that existed before 9/11, while Changez learns to appreciate the way Pakistan blends the old with the new to become something more vibrant and vital.

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One way in which the relationship between Erica and Changez can symbolize the relationship between the United States and Pakistan can be in the spirit of decay that exists in both.  Once their relationship starts, Erica and Changez are in a state of decay.  There is little either can do to offset the inevitable decay that defines their relationship.  Neither one is capable of being what the other needs.  In many respects, this is representative of the relationship between America and Pakistan.  Prior to the events of September 11, America and Pakistan emerged as actors in a play, a relationship that lacked the basic core of sustainability.  After the events of September 11, this was enhanced as neither could provide what the other needed.  Pakistan, like Changez, was incapable of helping the wounded America/ Erica.  In this setting, both were immersed in a sense of decay as their relationship reached a particular end where both essentially abandoned one another.  

Another way in which Erica and Changez can symbolize the relationship between the United States and Pakistan would be in the lack of trust present.  Erica is never able to trust Changez enough to be the person she could embrace as a soul mate and Changez is incapable of placing his full trust in her so that he could escape his feelings of inferiority.  In much the same way, this lack of trust is evident in the relationship between Pakistan and America, as both are incapable of trusting the other.  In the lack of trust, another symbolic construction helps to enhance the connection between Erica and Changez and America and Pakistan.

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