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Theme and Symbolism in Literature

Discuss About The Critique Of Grand Narrative Of Globalization.

Theme indicates the central topic around which a story revolves. Most often stories will move around a certain aspect of human dilemma related to associated circumstances. In most cases the very title of the paper defines the theme. For example, in case of ‘Mary’s Job’, the title itself signifies the theme of the story. In this story Mary works too hard for the publish house. Her team calls the organization her baby. She stays awake late night and jokingly compares herself with the monster Frankenstein. Even before the Christmas she is awake and at work. She seems to have given a different meaning to her job on her own. Every conversation and scenario that builds up points out the main theme – Mary’s dedication and commitment to the job. Finally the team gets their reward from the Ministry on Christmas (Adam). The other story by Ray Bradbury which represents the nuclear holocaust and shows how automation still goes on despite the destruction of the human race. The impact of nuclear bombings are compared to soft rains and it silently killed and destroyed the human race. Overall the theme is expressed with the metaphorical house which was once inhabited and now despite all attempts to survive fails to do so as the fire destroys it. In both the stories the dialogues, terminologies and illustrations of scenes symbolize the title and theme of the same. The second story gives a metaphorical representation to signify the impact of the nuclear holocaust. It seems nature will outlive human lives and even automation survives even when civilization is dead (Bradbury). The first title is about ‘Mary’s Job’. In the story the complexities of the job is well described. This describes specifically the way Mary takes her job or how much she is committed to the job.  Here Mary’s takes a lot of pressure on her own and hence the publish seems to be her business rather than her job. The description is entirely about this aspect of how she takes her job.


“It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.”(Hamid, p-183) This comment, made by the protagonist Changez in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, contains the essence of the novel within a few words. The story of the novel is spread out over the course of an evening conversation between a Pakistani man and an American stranger. It depicts the experiences and opinions of Changez, a Pakistani who had lived the great American dream for a short period of time till the 9/11 attacks changed his life. Changez had been born in Pakistan but like many of his Asian counter-parts, had opted for a global higher education in the States. He receives a prestigious degree from the Princeton University and bags a job as an analyst at a top consultancy. Changez falls in love with a mentally unstable American woman named Erica who is eventually admitted to a mental institution and then goes missing. Changez is disillusioned and traumatized by several consecutive events that follow the 9/11 incident in America. He finally decides to abandon the country and return to Pakistan as he is unable to come to terms with the extreme prejudice faced by his community in the States.  

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - A Study of the Post-9/11 Environment

There are some works of fiction that are almost entirely a reflection of reality. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one such novel that mimics the post-9/11 climate of America and raises a few fundamental questions in the reader’s mind(Ilot, p571-583). The mimetic quality of the novel pulls the reader into a part-real part-fiction narrative that allows the reader to analyse the dominant prejudices and preconceived notions depicted in the novel (Alghamdi, p1).  The collective memory of a nation or the world in general often comes into play in this narrative by a representative of the ethnic minority community of Arabs and Pakistanis in a growing anti-Muslim environment in the USA. The point of view of the author can be deciphered as the collective opinions and experiences of thousands of Muslims stuck in a pseudo-global state that allowed them to live their dreams at the cost of respect and freedom of expression.

This kind of confessional narrative style helps to create a connection of another dimension with the readers of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. There is a deliberate attempt by the author to expose the innermost and often controversial feelings towards the Americans after the racial discrimination the protagonist faces in America. In a particularly controversial statement the protagonist asks “So why did part of me desire to see America harmed?” (Hamid , p 73) This may come as somewhat of a shock to those who are unaware of the deep-seated trauma in the Muslim community. The silence of Changez’s fellow American in the café is an indication that the author is on a confessional roller-coaster with no desire to be interrupted by an American opinion on what has transpired in the States after the horrendous attacks. It is as if the author does not want to be weakened by a contradictory statement or a view point that is not in direct alignment with that of his own(Darda, p102-122).

Therefore, in this novel the author has maintained a monologue format of narration where the protagonist is the only one whose opinions are voiced and whose reactions are revealed to the reader. This monologue form of narration allows readers to connect and feel sympathetic towards the protagonist of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The fact that the views and opinions of the American companion of Changez is not revealed throughout the narrative of the book points to a deliberate attempt by the author to give a stronger voice to Changez. Here Changez acts as a representative of the thousands of unheard voices of the Muslim or the Arab community in America in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.

Dialogism and Borrowed Identity in The Reluctant Fundamentalist


The significance of the novel lies in its exposure of the multiple crevices that are still hidden beneath the apparent globalization of the world as a whole (Jarandikar et al, p 52-57). The extreme reactions to the 9/11 incident was a violent reminder to the world in general and to the Muslim community in particular that there is strong presence of the global-vernacular divide even in today’s modern generation of global working population. America had become a dream destination for thousands of talented South Asian Muslim individuals ever since the global corporate offices started providing talented immigrants equal opportunities to learn, grow and succeed in the free country. There was a huge influx of brains from various Muslim and other South Asian countries in the hope that a better life awaited in the land where dreams came true for those who worked hard. This created an ethnic melting pot of cultures and races from across the world in the US. It appeared as if globalization had transcended all the barriers that existed between people from two different parts of the world. The divide had almost been forgotten in a technologically speeding America when tragedy struck in the form of the heinous terror attacks of 2001. What followed was a nightmare for the Muslim community as well as other brown communities. New words like ‘Islamophobia’ were added to the American vocabulary and hate crimes were at an all time high. The author, through his protagonist Changez, attempts to dissect the innermost emotions of the Islamic community in their adopted homeland which had suddenly started hating their very presence. The mistrust between the white skinned Americans and the people of colour was at an all time low after the attacks (Imtiaz, p 348-350) and this has been portrayed well in the novel.

The effective usage of dialogism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist does create a somewhat complicated narrative but also initiates a reader-narrator bond that transcends time and reality in this fast-paced contemporary trauma fiction (Vickroy, p183–185). There is a sense of nostalgia in the protagonist’s dialogues which creates an empathetic doorway to the reader’s heart. In one of his nostalgic bouts Changez reminisces about his past days in his birth-land “did not, could not, make me forget such things as how much I enjoy the tea in this, the city of my birth” (Hamid, p 3). The protagonist’s emotions are served on a platter for the reader to consume with as much appetite as they might have for a rambling confessional dialogic novel.

The Impact of Modern Colonialism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist


The novel also emphasizes on the duality of an entirely borrowed identity that haunts the protagonist for a long time after he has left America. The author seems to be carrying a baggage of identity and existential crisis that clearly reflects in many of the protagonist’s statements. In one chapter the protagonist displays a deep-rooted contempt of himself through his monologue “I was filled with contempt for myself, such contempt that I could not bring myself to converse or eat” (Hamid 2007, p 129). This kind of contempt is common in people who are suffering from an existential crisis (Sobia, p 1- 11)

In that sense, the novel is also a case study in what may be termed as ‘modern colonialism’ by the dominant white skinned race in today’s globalized America. Colonialism is a word marred by a terrible history of racism and domination by the so-called superior races of the world. The prejudices involving individuals who were of any colour other than white has always been the main reason behind racism and apartheid in America and Europe. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the author makes it a point that this aspect of the most powerful economy in the world is brought to the forefront in a cathartic manner that spares little room for justification (Munos, p 396-405)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an important work of contemporary fiction in many ways. First and foremost, what the novel succeeds in doing is sensitize the reader to the extreme psychological trauma that the anti-Muslim brigade has inflicted on the minds of so many young and bright individuals like the protagonist of the book. It may be a confessional rambling for the author but for many sociologists and political research scientists, this book is a study of the socio-political impact of terror attacks like 9/11 on a global power like America. The repeated hate-crimes on the Islamic community after the terrorist attacks only helped to reinforce an already existing prejudice against Muslims in a country where Islam was simply thought to be another name for ‘extremism’  (Ahmed, p 142)

Conclusion

Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an effortless attempt to create a confessional discourse and tell a simple story of the collective trauma of the modern American Muslim community after the 9/11 terror attacks that rocked the foundation of a global brotherhood between various races(Morey, p135-146). It is a collection of many traumatic experiences as well as a continuous narrative of the protagonist’s life as he made his way through the murky waters of a blood-thirsty Islamophobic radical group of Americans. Although there may be various justifications available for the countless hate crimes that went unreported by the media after 9/11, the author has decided to focus on his end of the story rather than on his fellow American’s.


References:

Ahmed, Akbar S. (2007). Postmodernism and Islam; where to after September 11? In Postmodernism. What Moment? ed. Pelagia Goulimari. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 140-145.

Hamid, Mohsin (2007). The Reluctant Fundamentalist. London: Penguin Books.

Vickroy, Laurie. (2002). Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Dr Nitin Jarandikar and Dr Shubhangi Jarandikar, “Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Critique of the Grand narrative of Globalization” Labyrinth (Vol.5 - No.2 April 2014) ISSN 0976-0814. Pp 52-57.

Alghamdi Alaa, "Shifting Positions: Identity and Alterity In The Reluctant Fundamentalist", The IUP Journal of English Studies, Vol. VIII, No. 1, 2013

Darda Joseph, “Precarious World: Rethinking Global Fiction in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist” , Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature, Volume 47,Number 3, September 2014, pp. 107-122

Ilott Sarah, "Generic frameworks and active readership in The Reluctant Fundamentalist" Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 50:5, 571-583

Morey Peter, "Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and post 9/11 fiction", Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 47:2, 135-146, 2011

Delphine Munos, “Possessed by whiteness: Interracial affiliations and racial melancholia in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 48:4, 396-405, DOI: 10.1080/17449855.2011.633014

Kiran Sobia (2017), “Identity Crisis as Reflected in Selected Works: The Reluctant Fundamentalist By Mohsin Hamid and the Black Album by Hanif Kureishi, International Journal of Linguistics and Communication, Vol. 1 No. 2, December 2013

Imtiaz Uzma, “THE EAST AND WEST TRUST DEFICIT IN MOHSIN HAMID’S THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST”, European Scientific Journal, November 2015 /SPECIAL/ edition ISSN: 1857 – 7881 (Print) e - ISSN 1857- 7431

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