After reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist we could ask the question as to whether Changez’s relationship to America is the reason Changez is attached to his relationship with Erica? Erica has striking similarities to Changez’s dream country, America, which can be what makes him feel so attached to Erica. We can see Changez is a “lover of America” and is also in love with Erica (1). Erica is seen throughout the book as being warm and kind to Changez, but also at times unforgiving. This sounds like the relationship that Changez had with America. While in the beginning of the book it may seem that America is being nice to Changez, at the end the distance between Changez and America grows. Some readers may say that Erica didn’t really represent a relationship to America and Changez was really attached to her as a person and to her physical attractiveness. However, I would argue that his relationship with Erica represents his relationship with America which Changez grows attached to, more than just Erica’s physical attractiveness.
One way that we see Changez is obsessed with Ericas beauty is when he’s looking at her on the beach. When Erica takes her bikini top off he said, “and then, as I watched, only an arm’s length away, she bared her breasts to the sun” (23). Not only does he look at her, but he said that “I could keep staring” (24). This demonstrates his attraction to her body. He then follows her to the water as he is “watching the muscles of her lower back tense delicately to stabilize her spine” (24). By him giving such a detailed description of how he enjoys watching Erica’s body we see his attachment to her physical being. This idea is reinforced when he says, “I must say, how being in Pakistan heightens one’s sensitivity to the sight of a woman’s body” which gives him a motive for wanting just her body because in Pakistan he hasn’t experienced things like this (26).
Erica can also be seen as different from America when she ‘gives up’ at the end of the book, instead of trying to rebuild or fight back like Americans who are known for their strength to fight back and not give up. America, being a powerful nation, does not seem to be toppled by tragic events and thus has the strength to fight and emerge victorious. This can be seen when Jim tells Changez that “In wartime soldiers don’t really fight for their flags, Changez. They fight for their friends, their buddies. Their team” (153). However, in Erica’s case, it seems that she became hopeless and hence decided to terminate her life. By her giving up and not fighting to come out victorious through her own battles, is again not representative of America. Therefore, this aspect of Erica does not reflect American values as a nation which is strong willed and will fight back. That is another example of which Changez isn’t attached to Erica’s resemblance to America, which is not present here.
However, after taking a closer look at the text we see Erica as being symbolic of Changez’s American dream when Changez looks into her eyes when Erica is confiding in him in her bedroom and he says that “I met her eyes, and for the first time I perceived that there was something broken behind them…” (52). This could be a foreshadowing to Changez’s American dream being broken. We see that Changez’s dreams are broken when he says that “certainly I wanted to believe… As much as was possible from making the obvious connection between the crumbling of the world around me and the impending destruction of my personal American dream” (93). Seeing how both Changez and Erica were both broken, this could be something that Changez felt attached to.
Erica can also be seen as representative of America in the way that she treats Changez in regards to his ethnicity. “We were introduced, she smiled as she shook my hand—whether because she found me irresistibly refined or oddly anachronistic, I did not know…” (17). She even liked his beard that he was growing at the end of the book. He also says that “In a subway car, my skin would typically fall in the middle of the color spectrum”, which shows Americans’ openness to himself (33). And because of that Changez says, “[New York] still occupies a place of great fondness in my heart” (33). We can see the connection here between how New York and Erica are both treating him with the same respect of American values to make someone feel welcomed and is one way I would say that Erica is representative of America.
Another way that Erica is representative of Changez’s life in America is their sense of distance from things that kept getting more distant as their lives moved on. In Erica it was when she distanced herself from everything she knew by going to the clinic to live out her life. To demonstrate how Erica was separated from the world, the book says “it was difficult for Erica to be out in the world… So Erica felt better in a place like this, separated from the rest of us” (133). This can be seen as comparable to when Changez was realizing that America is not as open to him being there as it once was. He thought that America was the best place for him but “then comes the inevitable period of doubt, the desperate and doomed backpedaling of regret” which made him rethink his place (158). This is very evident after he grew out his beard which demonstrated that he “did not wish to blend in with the army of clean shaven youngsters” which were the Americans (130). He is now, like Erica, distancing himself from something that he used to love, which shows their close resemblance and a sense of attachment. It is for these reasons that I would argue for the resemblance of Changez’s relationship to Erica and his relationship with America.
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