What is one of the important settings in the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist and why it is important?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is told by Changez to his American listener in Pakistan. The story is about Changez's experiences in America, which include some successes and eventual disillusionment with America and his place there. In the telling of the story, the situation is reversed. In the telling, the American is the outsider in Pakistan whereas Changez was the outsider in America. This underscores the problem of culture clashes especially between citizens of two countries whose political relationship is problematic. This reversed parallel also shows the duality of an outsider trying to assimilate without relinquishing his/her own cultural traditions.

Changez tries to succeed and be happy in America but because of the circumstances, it does not happen. The American listens to the story and amiably shares a meal with Changez but by the end of the story, the American doubts Changez's sincerity and further doubts that this is a peaceful conversation. Since both men begin with relatively open minds, they each make an effort. Since both men end up distrusting each other, they both reluctantly become fundamentalists. And in the wake of 9/11 when East and West are still feeling somewhat anxious and distrustful of one another, their attempts to bridge their two cultures devolves and mutual distrust is increased.

One of the reasons Changez becomes disillusioned with America is American foreign policy, especially America's support of India with whom Pakistan has had conflicts. Although the American listener is only one man, his presence there in Pakistan could be symbolic of unwanted American presence in the Middle East. Even if that is the case, it is unclear as to who becomes suspicious first. And that is the point. Both Changez and the American have their own preconceived notions of the other. In terms of setting, the close temporal proximation to 9/11 has more to do with the fostering of those fears than the geographic locations do. However, those locations can't be miscounted. In each case, both men harbor resentment of each other because of where they're from; not who they are.