A Theme Of The American Dream In Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid’s book The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about Changez an international student who comes to America to achieve higher education at Princeton. After graduation, he gets a well-paying job at a high-end firm in New York. Changez is living the quintessential American dream of creating a better life for one’s self and family. Throughout the book we see that Changez’s main relationships are his relationship with Erica, relationship with parents, and his relationship with coworkers. However, after 9/11 everything goes downhill as he faces racism, the loss of relationships, and the loss of his job. This shows how quickly the life of the American dream can be lost. Overall, Mohsin Hamid explores the theme of the American dream through setting, narration, and dialogue.
The book starts off in Pakistan with Changez sitting down with an American. Changez is talking to the American about his experiences in America. He starts off with telling us about his college experience at Princeton. For example, he talks about hard it is for international students to get in when saying, “We international students were sourced from around the globe, sifted not only by well-honed standardized tests but by painstakingly customized evaluations — interviews, essays, recommendations — until the best and the brightest of us had been identified.” In addition to this he also needed financial aid which can be especially challenging for international students to obtain. Though by the end of his senior year he was “…confident of getting any job… Except one: Underwood Samson & Company…They were small — a boutique, really, employing a bare minimum of people — and they paid well, offering the fresh graduate a base salary of over eighty thousand dollars.” So, from this description we can see that this high-end company is very selective about who they hire in addition to paying well. With how selective this company is it is very hard to just attain an interview let alone a job. However, Changez was one of eight students that got a chance to be interviewed by Jim who is a representative from the Underwood Samson & Company. Changez also managed to be the one who got a job offer which he excitedly accepted. When he talks about his first day at Underwood Samson, he states that “On that day, I did not think of myself as a Pakistani, but as an Underwood Samson trainee, and my firm’s impressive offices made me proud.” From this we can really see that he is living the American dream as he has gotten his education at a top university and now has a job at a high-end well-paying firm that he feels proud to be part of.
Then Changez talks about some of the privileges of being part of Underwood Samson. For example, he talks about “…how exhilarating it is to be issued a credit card and told that your company will pick up the tab for any ostensibly work-related meal or entertainment?…I could, if I desired, take my colleagues out for an after-work drink—an activity classified as ‘new hire cultivation’ — and with impunity spend in an hour more than my father earned in a day!” This couldn’t be a more quintessential American dream example; the power of money. Money is something that everybody dreams of having and is one of top reasons people come to America as money allows for a better lifestyle, allows for the ability to pay for family that is still in their home country, and it can give them the ability start a new family in America.
In addition to having this dream job, Changez also begins to have a relationship with a girl named Erica. While in America Changez falls in love with a girl named Erica. He met Erica on a summer trip to Greece with a group of other college students. When in Greece he describes that “..when I looked at Erica and she looked back at me, I felt we both understood that something had been exchanged between us, the first invitation to a friendship…”. At first, they were just friends but once back in New York they started forming a closer relationship. Their relationship is ever-changing but there seems to be a constant issue with Erica’s feelings for her deceased lover.
It seems that Changez’s ever-changing relationship with Erica symbolizes his relationship with America. When 9/11 happens the life of the American dream along with his relationship Erica starts to fall apart. At first, he immerses himself in his work along with obsessing over his relationship with Erica. However, after 9/11 Erica’s mental health along with her relationship with Changez starts to rapidly deteriorate. He starts to have feelings of disconnect with the “typical” American along with a sense of being out of place in America. When in the middle of a work assignment in Chile he decides to up and leave to go back to New York to be with Erica. However, this action causes him to lose his job and when he goes to visit Erica, he finds that she’s been missing and from what we, the readers, can tell it seems that she has committed suicide. Changez’s loss of Erica and his job leads to him moving back to his family in Pakistan. This here is the loss of the life of the American dream.
The way that Mohsin Hamid tells this story is all from a first-person point of view which gives us, the readers, an insider’s point of view on his feelings and thoughts. Which helps to give readers a more personal view of Changez’s life and allows us to see and experience his life from his point of view which can make us more sympathetic towards him and his situation. We can all relate to the struggle of being torn between family, love, and work. I feel that this first-person narration style is key to what makes this book so powerful because we all can relate to Changez and his situation even when we have never been in his shoes.
Throughout the book, we can see the symbolism of his relationship with Erica and America along with how these relationships impact his lifestyle of the American dream. From him falling in love with both Erica and America, then his sense of rivalry with Chris and his feeling of being out of place in America, to the eventual fallout and ending of both his relationship with Erica and America which ends his American dream life. Changez deals with the torn feeling of being both an American and a Pakistani. The end of his relationship with Erica also leads to the end of his time of being an American.
Overall throughout the story, we can see the theme of the American dream from his education and career to his lifestyle and relationship with Erica. The way the story is told in first person makes Changez’s experiences very personable and relatable. We can see from his experiences at college and work to his relationships that he gets to live the American dream. However, he also experiences the painful loss of this dream and because of the way it is written we also experience this loss.
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