The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

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"And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased." Is this the key turning point in the novel for Changez? 

Changez begins to truly self-identify as an outsider (although the US will also drastically increase in its prejudice toward people who look like him in the coming days, months, and years).

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This moment, when Changez smiles at the Twin Towers fall, is absolutely a turning point in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Up until this point, Changez has done little to explore his complicated, paradoxical relationship with the United States. He has shown so much love and admiration for the country, even as it marks him as an outsider. This quote shows the point where Changez begins to truly self-identify as an outsider (although the US will also drastically increase in its prejudice toward people who look like him in the coming days, months, and years). As Changez realizes his pleasure in seeing America's injury, he begins to rapidly break from his former admiration of the country.

The estrangement and somewhat self-driven alienation sets him on the path he will follow for the rest of the novel.

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Yes, I think this moment does represent the key turning point in Changez's narrative. In addition to his happiness regarding the symbolic significance of the attacks on September 11, 2001, this is also the moment that Erica begins to regress into her obsession with her deceased boyfriend, Chris. Just as the attacks bring America to her knees, in Changez's language, they also catapult both America and Erica (notice that her name is actually part of the word America) into their past: Changez refers to the dangerous nostalgia that seems to engulf both the country and the young woman. Changez's relationship with Erica, as with America, begins to deteriorate quickly after the attacks, and he can never really connect with either one in the same way again.

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This episode is indeed a turning point in the story in that Changez's solidarity with his home country and his fellow religionists re-emerges in the wake of 9/11. His smiling at the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center represents a partial resolution of his inner conflict over his identity. Previously, Changez had found it hard to reconcile his traditional Pakistani origins with both his personal and business life in America. Caught between two completely different worlds, he never quite knew where he stood.

But in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that's all changed. Now at last he has some idea of the future direction his life will take. He's been set on a path of estrangement from Western values that will lead him to embrace Islamic fundamentalism and involve himself in anti-American political activities.

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I think that a case can be made that when Changez's reaction to the towers falling represents a turning point in the narrative.  It is at this point where Changez makes a noticeable break with his love of America.  At a moment where the nation that held so much affinity for him is at its most challenging instant, Changez smiles.  It's a turning point because it marks an instant in which he does not feel sad.  He is filled with happiness because the discomfort he has been made to feel internally is being matched with an external result.  For Changez, this marks a turning point because it is an instant where he feels that there is an equality in pain and suffering.

This instant has to be seen as a turning point because it is after this point where his emotional departure from America accelerates.  From this point, he engages in reflection about who he is and how much he no longer fits into the American vision.  This moment is a turning point because it marks a point in which Changez breaks with America and turns a corner in his thinking about the world and his place in it.

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