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Mohsin Hamid’s Use of Allegory in the Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fictional novel authored by a renowned Pakistani writer, Mohsin Hamid. Published in the 2007, the novel tells the story of a man named Changez narrating about his affair with an American lover to a nervous American stranger. The protagonist tells this story while at an outdoor Lahore café where he had gone seeking a cup of hot coffee. He begins his story from when he was a student to when he graduated and worked at a prestigious financial firm in New York City. All seemed well until the famous 9/11 attack, after which the city fell into a state of devastation. From then on, his American dream seemed shattered. As the city and the woman he loved suffered through the new wounds, Changez discovers that his place in society has shifted. For this reason, he had to decide where his true loyalties lied; with his homeland or his adoptive country. This essay highlights how the author uses allegory (extended metaphor) to explore the changes that occurred in America’s political and cultural scenes before and after 9/11.

Allegory refers to the application/use of words, phrases, or pictures that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. In Hamid’s novel, not only do the majority parts of the narrative correspond to other systems of relations, but they are also anything else but subtle. The characters’ names used in the story are selected to offer the audience a double meaning. For instance, the protagonist’s name, Changez, is derived from the English word (changes) that America was going through at the time. The financial company that he worked for before the attack, Underwood Samson, symbolizes optimism, power, and the under-the-surface racism that rocked the United States society. This company taught Changez the guiding principle of focusing and abiding by the fundamentals of systematic pragmatism, efficiency, and maximum result. Alongside its future orientation, the firm was in an absolute “rush to increase its profit margins…” through their merciless economic drive (Hamid). As time went by, Changez became a reluctant fundamentalist after realizing the broader political picture of the United States. The realization came from his apprehension that the United States was financially preserved and built by “repressive global practices” by constantly interfering in other country’s affairs to benefit itself (Hamid). The company, just like the government, “seemed to represent the pragmatic face of the nation’s leadership,” which made the protagonist get disgusted by the US’ use of power on war on terror and the nation’s economic arm embodied in the firm (Hamid).

At one point, Changez returned to his home country, Pakistan. On arriving, his first glimpse of the nation, he saw poverty and shabbiness: “… me with the eyes of a foreigner… who so annoyed me when I …” (Hamid). This made it clear that he had also been possessed by American capitalism, which strived for capital value, and thus he was unable to recognize his home’s historic value. Later onward, his conversion with a Chilean publisher, Juan-Bautista, “A name that reassembles the biblical John the Baptist,” slightly awakens him from his unconsciousness. As the “wise prophet,” he helped him delve into deep retrospection and reframe his American influence over his life. After the occurrence of the 9/11 attack, the protagonist grows out his beard as a show of protest and pride of is ancestral roots so that he does not “Blend in with … clean-shaven youngsters” (Hamid). His integration with the rest of the Americans, including his colleagues, became harder. The once multicultural street of New York now seemed to gang up against him based on his appearance. However, he chose to shave it off and “don the uniform of corporate America” but instead chose to uphold his Pakistani identity (Hamid).

Although people expected his relationship with Erica to collapse on his ill-fated love affair, alongside his relationship with the financial firm and the United States, it does not. In essence, his love embodied “the whole fate of her home nation after the 9/11 attack” (Hamid). Before the attack, there was a growing relationship between the west and the East, but she also fell into nostalgia after the attack, just like the entire nation. Erica’s name derived from the word American, (Am)Erica longed for the cultural certainties of the past. On the other hand, Changez’s boss, Jim, was also unable to let go of the past after the attack and still went after his “old money,” a house he owned at the Hamptons. This indicates that the society “America” that Underwood Samson represents denounced “outsiders” such as Changez. Therefore, the American Vision, which envisioned a classless society thus collapsed after the 9/11 attack. This is attributed to the lost love and multicultural connection in most American society (Elmazi).

In conclusion, the book’s author used Allegories severally to communicate his message to the audience. The sentiments above showcase these various instances with their meanings as intended by the author. They also help bring out the changes that occurred in the USA after the 9/11 attack through the protagonist’s life account. The American Vision, which envisioned a classless society, thus collapsed after the 9/11 attack.

Work Cited

Elmazi, Mirjeta. Allegorical dimensions in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. (2020).

Hamid, Mohsin. The reluctant fundamentalist. Anchor Canada, 2009.

Hartnell, A. (2010). Moving through America: Race, place, and resistance in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Journal of Postcolonial Writing46(3-4), 336-348.


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