Atmosphere and Setting

The novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, follows the protagonist Changez’ journey through American business fundamentalism. Hamid utilises a plethora of surroundings that convey specific feelings, throughout the novel to heighten the emotions felt by Changez. This is first evident through New York City’s drastic change from optimistic to hostile, following the 9/11 attacks, which correlates with Changez understanding himself. Further as Changez is through his travels exposed to difference countries such as Greece and the Philippines, he becomes aware of the disparity between Americans and himself.
This eventually leading him back to Lahore where he is disgusted to realise that he has become a “foreigner”. Shortly after . time in Valpariso ultimately leaves him disenchanted with American. Hamid creates such environments and atmospheres to amplify Changez conflicting beliefs about his place in America and Pakistan. The changes in atmosphere and setting of New York City, mirror Changez changing attitude towards America and his identity in the milieu of New York City.
Before the 9/11 attacks New York is depicted as a society that is diverse, modern and full of opportunity. The city itself exudes a feeling of encouragement and optimistic, welcoming individuals of all cultures. Hamid portrays, the city like this to consequently allow Changez, the protagonist to feel as though he belongs. Changez feel at home, in New York because of the taxi drivers speaking Urdu, the Punjab deli and his skin colour falling “in the middle of the colour spectrum”. He remarks that he “never [felt] like an American”, but “immediately [felt like] a New Yorker.

To Changez, New York offers him an opportunity to achieve the “American dream”, it made “everything possible”. It is because of these specific feelings that Changez experiences towards New York City, that he is infatuated with America. However after 9/11 New York becomes of city of patriotism and paranoia, much more seclusive and guarded. At this point in the novel, Changez has begun to see the inhumanity of the pragmatic and materialistic America that he has accepted. Hamid, changes the atmosphere of New York, to further amplify Changez’ dislike for America.
Changez feels as through the city is saying “We are America-not New York”, making him uncertain of his place, as he never really felt like an “American”. In addition, New York’s tense atmosphere provokes rumours of racism: Pakistani cab drivers being beaten….. the FBI raiding mosques… Muslim men.. disappearing. As a result this atmosphere makes Changez feel uncomfortable and unsure about where he stands in America. Changez time in Greece and the Manila provides the perfect enviorment for him to become increasingly aware of the disparity between Americans and himself.
Hamid’s use of Greece is significant, due to its laid back, relaxing atmosphere that juxtaposes against New York. This provides the ideal environment to stimulate Changez’ American companions, to exhibit their preconceived American superiority. Changez becomes aware of the “ease at which they parted with money”, and their “self righteousness”, as though they were part of the “ruling class”. He becomes increasing attentive of this self satisfaction that American’s carry with them. Further, Hamid uses Manila because of its similarity to Pakistan and its idolisation of Americans.
Thus, Changez finds that, “it was one thing to accept that New York was more wealthy than Lahore, but quite another to swallow the fact that Manila was as well”. This setting evokes pride and jealousy in Changez. Hence, he attempts to “act and speak…. more like an American… [he] wanted [his] share of that respect”. Despite his belief that his “Pakistaniness was invisible”, the glare that he receives from a driver of a jeppney, with its “undisguised hostility”, shakes Changez. He consequently realises, that this driver has seen through him and this once again makes him feel as though he is betraying Pakistan.
The atmosphere in Lahore and Valparaiso plays an important role in concreting Changez disenchantment with America. When Changez first returns back to Lahore, he notices “how shabby [his] house appeared”, he was “saddened to find it in such a state” and ashamed that this was where he had come from. Hamid creates such an atmosphere to act as crucial for Changez’ realization of who he has become. Soon after Changez releases that his surroundings had not changed since his departure, he “had changed”. He realises that he, ” was looking… ith the eyes of a foreigner…. [of] that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American”. This setting forces Changez to become aware of his new identity and question his loyalty to Pakistan. Changez feels as though he is “abandon[ing] his people”. Upon realising this, he begins to appreciate his home’s “enduring grandeur” and “rich… history”. Furthermore, Hamid chooses Valparaiso as the next crucial setting because Changez associates the city with Pakistan, hence feeling more comfortable there.
The city’s decline as a great port reminds Changez of Lahore. Therefore he is able to trust the chief of the publishing company, Juan Bautisa. Thus, when Juan-Bautisa tells Changez of the janissaries’, Changez is able to realise that he has become,” a servant of the American empire when it was invading a country of kinship to mine”. This setting and atmosphere provides the vital catalyst that convinces Changez that he no longer belongs in America. He now knows that his “days of focusing on the fundamentals were done”.
Hamid uses particular settings and atmospheres in his novel, to provoke his protagonist Changez to feel certain emotions and act accordingly. The environments prove to be crucial in how the plot unfolds as they are all are essential in influencing Changez subsequent actions. The changes of New York City’s welcomeness, his observations in Greece and his sense of comfort in Valparaiso all affect Changez emotionally. Overall, had the novel not used such specific surroundings, Changez feelings may have not been realised to their full intensity.

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