Notes from World Scholar's Cup. Thank you.

Major Characters

Changez is the novel’s narrator and protagonist. He is a Pakistani man from Lahore in his mid-twenties,who graduated at the top of his class from Princeton. Unlike many of his wealthy acquaintances at Princeton, Changez had little money and was attending the school on financial aid. To afford Princeton,Changez worked three off-campus jobs, studied in the wee hours of the night, and cooked his own meals
in his dormitory. Although Changez was not wealthy in college, he was very polite and sophisticated because—despite his family’s declining economic status—he was raised in high society.
Changez’s politeness and formality made him an outsider in college, but they work to his advantage in the corporate world of Manhattan-based Underwood Samson & Company valuation firm. At Underwood Samson, as at Princeton, Changez is at the top of his class. Jim, the man who hired him, takes a special interest in Changez because of their shared background of economic hardship and a Princeton education. At the same time, Changez is falling in love with Erica, a Princeton classmate whom he met while on vacation in Greece.
Slowly, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Changez discovers that he cannot keep Erica or his job at Underwood Samson. Erica is too depressed to have a relationship with anyone, and Changez finds himself fundamentally opposed to Underwood Samson’s ethos of “maximum efficiency.” He purposely gets fired from his job at Underwood Samson and returns home to Lahore. There, he becomes a
university lecturer, popular among students because of his belief that Pakistan must gain international power. Because of statements he made that were labeled “anti-American” and because one of his students was arrested in connection with an assassination plot, Changez is watchful of his own security. The novel is Changez’s conversation with a stranger, whom we will call the American.

The American
The American, unlike Changez, is never named. By leaving the American nameless, Hamid encourages us to put ourselves in his place. This forces us to make subjective judgments about the novel—from the perspective of the American—and objective comments, from our own, analytical perspective.
Changez guesses the American’s nationality easily because of the way he carries himself—whether it is his physical bearing or his emotional bearing, we do not know. He is tall and barrel-chested and has the appearance and instincts of “a seasoned army officer” (6). He has a fancy cell phone, the likes of which Changez has never seen before. He is contacted on the hour and always replies in a text message. Also, he has a bulge in his jacket where a holster would be. He reaches for it when he is threatened or nervous, such as when the waiter approaches the table
The American sits with his back to the wall and is constantly watchful; this makes him seem both on some kind of “mission” and afraid (1).Everything else that we know about the American we garner from Changez’s answers to his implied questions and reactions to his implied expressions. He knows Manhattan well and he has traveled to the East. He seems uncomfortable with Changez’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Toward the end of the novel, the American begins questioning whether Changez is telling him the truth. As he and Changez walk down Mall Road, the American keeps glancing over his shoulder and asking whether The American’s
watchfulness makes him seem as if he is both ”on a mission”and afraid the men behind them are following them. At one point, he asks whether Changez has signaled to theirwaiter, who is walking some distance behind them. At the novel’s end, the American reaches forsomething metallic in his jacket.

Erica is Changez’s love interest. She is a wealthy, thin, athletic Manhattan socialite who has the social magnetism of a celebrity. When Changez first sees her, he thinks she is queenly. However, Erica is detached from reality and sinking increasingly deeply into depression. Erica wrote an unconventional work of fiction that she is trying to get published; she wants to be a novelist. However, Erica’s inspiration to write is eclipsed by her grief over her first and only love, Chris. Erica’s love for Chris
prevents her from becoming intimate with Changez, both physically and emotionally. She is able to make love to Changez only once, when he pretends to be Chris, and her continued mourning for Chris makes her too frail to spend time with Changez. She is eventually committed to a mental health clinic by the Hudson River, where she presumably commits suicide by jumping naked into the water.
As her name suggests, Erica represents America, specifically the part of America that is detached from reality and self-absorbed. Therefore,Changez’s relationship with her corresponds to his relationship with America as a nation. Just as Changez is incompatible with Erica, so is he at odds with America’s oblivious, self-serving foreign policy.

Jim is Changez’s boss at Underwood Samson. He is a middle-aged Princeton alumnus who rose from an exceedingly poor background to the highest ranks of corporate America. Like the American, Jim is an imposing man who has “look of a seasoned army officer” (6). Jim takes a special interest in Changez both because he is the best new hire and because of their shared background. When Changez visits Jim’s apartment, he notices several male nudes among Jim’s artwork collection. Jim is also not married; these are all clues that he is homosexual.
Because he is a senior valuer, Jim has the ability to see through people very easily, as he does with Changez. (Changez learns this quality from him and uses it on his students in Lahore.) Of Jim, Changez recalls: “His eyes were cold, a pale blue, and judgmental, not in the way that word is normally used, but in the sense of being professionally appraising, like a jeweler’s when he inspects a diamond he intends
neither to buy nor to sell” (7). In other words, Jim is able to pass judgment coolly and professionally, without becoming emotionally involved; this is the key to being a valuer. A valuer must focus purely on getting his client the maximum profit possible; he must make himself blind to the human cost of his recommendations, such as layoffs. Despite his ability to be emotionally detached, Jim is supportive of Changez in the most adverse of situations. Even though he must fire Changez for ruining the project in Valparaiso, he offers Changez his emotional support.

Wainwright is Changez’s colleague and friend at Underwood Samson. He is a black man, his father being from Barbados. Wainwright is ranked second to Changez at Underwood Samson. However, for all his seriousness at work, he is also lighthearted and socially outgoing. He likes to quote movie lines and is the first person on the dance floor at Jim’s party in the Hamptons. Wainwright is the only one of
Changez’s colleagues who does not seem to distrust him after the events of 9/11, when Changez grows a beard. He tries to help Changez, though unsuccessfully, by suggesting he shave his beard to avoid prejudice.

In his brief interim in the novel, Juan-Bautista manages to affect a strong change in Changez’s value set. Juan-Bautista runs the music business in Valparaiso that Underwood Samson is valuing, but he does not own it; the owners are selling it to a new client. Underwood Samson is valuing the trade part of the business, which staffs literary writers (as opposed to educational or professional) for the client. Most likely, the client will eliminate it. Juan-Bautista is none too glad about this, so initially his kindness toward Changez is surprising.
Changez likes Juan-Bautista from the moment they meet because he resembles Changez’s grandfather. He wears thick glasses, carries a cane, and walks exceedingly slowly. Juan-Bautista tells Changez about the janissaries and implies Changez is like them. He also directs Changez to Pablo Neruda’s house. In
both actions, Juan-Bautista is urging Changez to become a revolutionary. He senses Changez’s churning inner conflict and acts as the catalyst for his change of heart. After his conversation with Juan-Bautista, Changez vows to become an “ex-janissary” and to see America through clear eyes.Juan-Bautista’s name has two possible meanings. First, it means “John the Baptist.” John the Baptist was
a saint who baptized people, including Jesus. Changez is not like Jesus, but Juan-Bautista is certainly like John the Baptist. He cleanses Changez of his conflict and presents him with an enlightened vision of how he should spend his life. Second, the name of the protagonist in Albert Camus’s The Fall is Jean- Baptiste—the same as Juan-Bautista, but in French. Hamid based The Reluctant Fundamentalist at least
partially on The Fall, which is also written in the form of dramatic monologue. Jean-Baptiste is a philosophical character in the same way Juan-Bautista is. Juan-Bautista is concerned with literature, not material gain.

Minor Characters of Note
The waiter
The waiter is a large and imposing man. He continually approaches the table to wait on Changez and the American. At the novel’s end, he is walking on the road behind them. The American seems to distrust the waiter.

Chris is a character that never actually appears in the story, although he plays a significant role. He was Erica’s first and only love, an artist “with long skinny fingers” (28). Chris was like Erica’s brother until they became romantically involved in high school; she calls him her “home.” Chris died of lung cancer, even though he never smoked a single cigarette—save one after his diagnosis. Chris, or the idea or memory of him, consumes Erica’s thoughts and eventually devours her when she (presumably) commits suicide.

Sherman is a vice president at Underwood Samson who gives the trainees their orientation on their first day of work. Therefore, Sherman is Hamid’s mouthpiece for stating the ethos of Underwood Samson—and, symbolically, America. He is also the person who initiates Changez and the other new hires into using their expense accounts. He takes them out for a bottle of champagne and, before leaving, tells
them to drink to their hearts’ content.

The Filipino driver
The Filipino driver glares at Changez when they are both stopped at an intersection in Manila. Although we do not know why he stares Changez down, his gesture makes Changez aware of his inner conflict regarding what it means to work in corporate America.

The cashier
The cashier works at the Pak-Punjab Deli in New York City. He gives Changez a free breakfast on his first day of work. That night, Changez tries to pay him with his American Express corporate charge card.

The nurse
The nurse is a friendly woman who works at the clinic where Erica is sent. She is Erica’s go-between both times Changez visits. On the second visit, the nurse tells Changez about Erica’s disappearance and shows him the place where her clothes were found. The nurse, like the wall on the island of Rhodes, represents the emotional and moral barrier that separates Erica and Changez.

The man in the parking lot
The man in the parking lot accosts Changez and speaks to him in nonsense syllables meant to sound like Arabic. He creates Changez’s first direct and personal experience of prejudice in the post-9/11 climate.

Chuck and Mike
Chuck is Changez’s college soccer buddy who invites him to Greece. Mike is Chuck’s friend and a rival for Erica’s affections. Both Chuck and Mike are wealthy Princetonians, members of the Ivy dining club.
Chuck and Mike are important because they are generic characters; they represent a certain class of people and their individual identities are unimportant. In this case, they represent the type of spoiled, impolite young American that annoys Changez.
Hamid underscores Chuck and Mike’s similarity by making their names similar. As Changez remarks, they are “monosyllabically monickered” (18). Incidentally, the common thread of monosyllabic names extends to a major character: Jim. Jim is not a generic character; Hamid gives us a clear sense of what makes him unique, and he is not from the same background as Chuck and Mike. However, Jim’s
position in corporate America connects him to Chuck and Mike; he may be a compassionate person, but he is also a typical American in his quest for profitability at any cost.

Erica’s Parents
Erica’s parents are wealthy, educated, and elite Manhattanites. When Changez comes to their penthouseapartment for dinner, Erica’s father unwittingly offends him with his brief, cold summation of Pakistan’s political state. Changez has more interactions with Erica’s mother, because she—like the nurse—is a gobetween
in Changez’s relationship with Erica. When Changez visits her after Erica’s disappearance, she gives him Erica’s manuscript.

Changez’s Family
Changez family once belonged to Lahore’s wealthy elite class. They are still elite, but their economic situation has been deteriorating for several generations. According to Changez, his relatives are addicted to nostalgia because the reality of their financial decline is too painful to bear. Their resulting debts, arguments, and emotional problems wreak havoc on the whole family.
When the conflict between India and Pakistan begins, some of Changez’s relatives begin making emergency preparations. After his visit to see his parents, Changez feels guilty that he is leaving the country instead of fighting for it.