What is Mohsin Hamid’s message about identity in The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

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

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In a word, Hamid seems to be saying that identity in the modern setting is "difficult."  The one element throughout Changez's narrative is that his formulation of identity is never easy.  Identity is a concept whose only consistency seems to be its pain and frustration.  Changez's arrival into America is one in which he wishes to embrace the openness and seemingly lack of limitation in America, yet he does so understanding that he is not fully a part of it.  Identity with Erica is a challenge because as much as they both might love one another, he is not Chris, and must address this.  At one point, in a complete and bizarre reenactment of identity, he tells her to pretend to be Chris, something that does not sit well with him at the time or after it.  In Changez's work, his identity is crushed under the weight of what he does, the fact that he is good at it, and eventually the toll it takes on others and, eventually, on himself.  To a great extent, Changez's return to Pakistan and his embrace of fundamentalism is something where there is not a complete settlement in his identity.  He is shown to be paranoid or hyper aware of things, unable to discern what his mind constructs and what reality offers.  The ending is one in which the questions abound for both he and the reader.  There is little to indicate that Changez is settled in his identity even at the end of the novel where repudiation of America has not fully translated into a sense of contentment. It is here where Hamid makes some of his strongest contentions that identity in the modern setting is challenging and difficult, at best.

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