The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

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What are the major themes of The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

The major themes in The Reluctant Fundamentalist revolve around Changez's status as an immigrant in America as well as the nature of identity in general. Even with the privilege he enjoys, we see how Changez's experience is characterized by self-doubt and conflicting feelings of loyalty and belonging. We also see how his identity fluctuates, never static, always changing in relation to the world around him.

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One major theme of this text is that the immigrant experience is fraught with many hardships—some which can be anticipated and some which cannot—and that it is challenging to make a life in a country that is not one's home. Changez struggles with his identity at Princeton, working several jobs in order to have any money, all the while conducting himself like a prince so that his peers do not find out. He is embarrassed by the behavior and entitlement of his American peers when he travels in Europe with them. He works to balance his values and identity as a Pakistani man with all of the perks and advantages he is granted by his position at Princeton and, later, Underwood Samson.

These ideas lead to another important theme: that identity is fluid, never absolute, and is constructed within relation to others' identities. Changez describes himself as a "lover of America," but he also grows to espouse the idea of complete disengagement with America, politically. He forms his ideas about who he is and who he wants to be, relative to what he learns about himself and America while he lives in America. He even tells Erica to "pretend" that he is Chris so that Changez and Erica can have sex; he loses his clear sense of self for some time and must work to rebuild that confidence and self-awareness again.

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