Hybrid Identity in Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Globalisation has resulted in a yearly influx of people seeking a better life in the developed world from the developing world. More people are fleeing crises in the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety and better chances for themselves and their families in Europe and North America. As soon as these immigrants cross the border into Europe or the United States, they tend to bring their traditions, customs, and ways of life. Immigrants can either be assimilated, separated, or merged into one another due to this movement. People who immigrate have a choice: they may either reject the foreign culture outright or embrace it and make it their own. A hybrid identity is formed by integrating particular aspects of a foreign culture into one’s own, so immigrants do not completely lose their identity when a hybridisation happens. Postcolonial scholars have coined the term “glocal” (a mix of the words “local” and “global”) to describe someone who has adopted a hybrid identity.

Postcolonial studies tend to focus on the subject of hybrid identity because colonisation facilitated the establishment of hybrid identities. Once they arrived, the colonisers would either impose their own culture or teach the colonised to accept western values and practices. It sparked a clash of cultures between the West and the East.

Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” touches on the matter when it comes to being both a Pakistani and an American. Underwood Sampson is the New York valuation agency where the protagonist, Changez, works as an immigrant from Pakistan. A postcolonial lens is used to examine Changez’s struggle to strike a balance between his Western and Eastern identities.

The word “hybridity,” created by Homi K. Bhabha, refers to the mingling of Western and Eastern cultures. As a result of this interplay between the coloniser and colonised, Homi K. Bhabha believes that in-between space is created. Hybridity can be explained in terms of this hypothesis. Changez Khan joins Underwood Sampson after completing his studies at an American institution. His stay in New York is going well, and he is making the most of it. He has a great profession, a beautiful girlfriend in Erica, and a group of friends that travel to Greece with him. To blend in, Changez tries to live and act like an American. In time, he comes to behave and think like the other culture. Robinson Crusoe’s character Friday begins to learn English and God’s words and progressively becomes more civilised as he adopts Crusoe’s behaviour. Changez begins to mimic American social norms, behaviour, and culture. New York City is where he considers himself to be at home. He accepts that he is a part of the American way of life. His new lifestyle and the area he calls home are two of his favourite things. He loves the place he lives in and his adopted way of life.

The city also welcomes him with wide arms. He writes in the book that his surprise arrival in New York was like going home. In another paragraph, he claims that he was never an American throughout the four and a half years he lived in New York. Several times throughout the narrative, he refers to himself as an American. For instance, he tries to act and speak like an American when he visits Manila, but he soon realises that he will not be regarded the same as white Americans. He cannot lose the aspect of his identity that makes him a Pakistani. Despite his best efforts, he is aware that he will always be the “other.”

He is plagued by a feeling of estrangement and otherness throughout the story. He will not be able to get away from it. He thus takes on a complex identity. His heritage is continually brought up to him.

In the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, he chuckles a bit. No, he is not harsh because he is a sadist; instead, it is because he has been rejected by contemporary American culture. He is pleased that someone has in such a public way brought the United States to its knees.

He can only have Erica for a few minutes by disguising himself as Chris and abandoning his identity as Changez. If he does not first transform himself, he will not be able to have her. He wants her to call him Chris when they spend the night together because of this. He may swap between Changez and Chris to get nearer to his girlfriend in the same way he is confused about where he belongs. Holders of hybrid identities find it simpler to switch between personas. He lacks a strong basis. He has nothing to offer her when she asks for aid since he is unsure of where he belongs—in Lahore, New York, both, or neither. Given how fragile his own identity is, this is presumably why he has been willing to try to adopt the persona of Chris. His statements make it clear that he has been struggling with his identity.  Because of this, he defends his Eastern origin when faced with racial profiling. Because he has gotten good at switching between numerous identities up to the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, it becomes easier for him to take the persona of Chris.

Because of his Muslim and Eastern ancestry, he faced increased suspicion and animosity following the September 11th attacks. Because of this, he finds it quite upsetting that Americans think of Muslims as being backward and fanatical about their religion. For him, America becomes a source of evil, and he sees himself as an agent of the Empire built by robbing other countries like his own.

He finds it harder to live in New York as a Muslim and an Easterner after 9/11. He travels to Pakistan to visit his family, and it is clear that he is furious with the United States for siding with India against his country. He also does not feel entirely Pakistani, though. On a business trip to Chile, he meets Juan-Batista, who likens Changez to the janissaries, young men of Christian descent who were conscripted into the Turkish military to serve as the Sultan’s guard and were compelled to battle against their own culture and civilisation. He can relate to this analogy since he feels as though he is enriching America at the expense of his own country. He becomes more and more frustrated with his life in America as he considers the poverty of his home country. He no longer finds life to be as enjoyable as it once was.

Changez, who was first disinterested in what was happening in Pakistan, gradually becomes increasingly self-conscious about his Pakistani origin. He realises the importance of identifying his individuality. To become an American, he would have to relinquish his otherness, which is impossible, just as he cannot have Erica if he remains loyal to himself. He is upset by the insults and prejudice he is exposed to. Profiling based on race has encouraged him to grow a beard.

Because of the prejudice, he faces after the September 11th attacks, his Eastern identity solidifies. A culture that mistreats him because of his looks and skin tone makes it hard for him to feel at home and defend that civilisation. He is enraged by the injustices that his people face in the United States. Each day, his sense of belonging to the East became stronger. With each step he takes away from his American character, more and more of his Pakistani heritage comes to light. When he visits Lahore, he feels like he is lost in the woods. Having spent so much time looking, he has finally realised who he truly is. He becomes even more strident in defending his native nation, religion, language, and culture, and his voice grows louder. After what looks to be a lengthy nap, he is awoken. The person who once prided himself on being an American becomes a staunch opponent of the ways in which the United States administers itself globally. For him, the United States’ behaviour on the international stage has never been a source of pride.

Towards the book’s conclusion, Changez has lost all traces of his American identity. As a result, he decides to go back to his original country and resume working as a lecturer again. The outcome of this is his public critique of American policies. He may or may not be a fundamentalist, but he is unquestionably anti-American in his views.

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