Settings

What do the settings of Lahore and New York tell us about the fall of empires?
Why is it important that Changez meets Erica in Greece?
What about Valparaiso makes it a fitting setting for Changez to get himself fired?

Introduction
The Reluctant Fundamentalist deals with themes relevant on a global scale. Therefore, the wide range of its settings is unsurprising. In a mere 184 pages, Hamid takes us from Lahore to New York City to Manila to Valparaiso. However, we should keep in mind that settings can vary in size greatly. A setting can be as large as an entire planet) or as small as a single table in a café.
In a very broad sense,
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story about change, and its settings are no exception. Not only are the settings vital to the story, but also they are dynamic. They themselves transform (as Old Anarkali transforms from a thoroughfare to a piazza) and they transform the characters that move within them (as Valparaiso helps inspire Changez to quit his job).

Lahore
Changez calls Lahore “the city of my birth,” which is true, but Lahore is also Changez’s chosen city (15). For a time, he is poised to ascend to the ranks of the American corporate elite. However, when he becomes disillusioned with America, he chooses to exile himself back to Lahore. Changez discovers that there is no replacement for one’s homeland.
Much of what we know of Lahore comes from Changez’s impassioned descriptions of it to the American. In the very beginning of the novel, he describes it as: “the second largest city of Pakistan, ancient capital of the Punjab, home to nearly as many people as New York, layeredlike a sedimentary plain with the accreted history of invaders from the Aryans to the Mongols to the British” (7). In this initial description, Hamid ties Lahore to the idea of empire in several ways. First, he tells us that the city has withstood many invasions and occupations, giving it a diverse history and an implied strength.
This quote is also the first of several instances where Changez compares and contrasts Lahore and New York. As we will see, Hamid implies that New York is the capital of the American empire.
8 Lahore is the capital of the Punjab region of Pakistan. More importantly, it was an important city during ancient times and also—Hamid points out specifically—during the time of the Mughal Empire. Therefore,Lahore represents a fallen empire while New York represents an expanding empire. Nowhere is this clearer than in Chapter 3, when Changez explains:
“Four thousand years ago, we the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians.
Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed.”(34)


The events of 9/11 change not only New York City but also Lahore. As Changez explains, as long as terrorists are living in a given country, America blames the whole country for terrorism and does not hesitate to attack it. After he sees the invasion of Afghanistan on television, Changez becomes enraged.
Beforehand, Lahore’s economic troubles overshadowed its great history. Now that America has lumped Pakistan into the category of militant countries, Lahore is seen as poor
and evil. He rants:
“… In the stories we tell of ourselves we were not the crazed and destitute radicals you see on your television channels but rather saints and poets and—yes—conquering kings. We built the Royal Mosque and the Shalimar Gardens in this city, and we built the Lahore Fort with its mighty walls and wide ramp for our battle-elephants. And we did these things when your country was still a collection of thirteen small colonies, gnawing away at the edge of continent.” (102)

Changez’s comparisons between Lahore and New York do more than just emphasize Lahore’s great history and New York’s current greatness. They suggest that, like all empires, America is doomed to fall and New York is destined to become like Lahore.
.

Changez’s Childhood Home in Gulberg
Changez’s childhood home in Gulberg is a microcosm of Lahore’s fall from the rank of imperial city. Changez’s family has a high social status, but its economic situation has been declining progressively with each generation. The house is in one of the wealthiest areas of Lahore, but—like Lahore at large—it has the appearance of former greatness: “Mughal miniatures and ancient carpets graced its reception rooms … It was far from impoverished; indeed, it was rich with history” (125). “Rich with history” has a twofold meaning; the house has a rich history, but its riches are of the past Changez’s family cannot afford to buy new luxuries. Initially during his visit home, Changez is able to see the house only in the second way; he thinks it is “shabby” and “dated.”
Changez’s newfound view of his family home disgusts him. He says: “
I had changed; I was looking about me with the eyes of a foreigner, and not just any foreigner, but that particular type of entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite” (124). Now that Changez has become accustomed to the world of skyscrapers, doorman-guarded buildings, and expense accounts, his own homeland, hometown, and very house look shabby in comparison. Sensing that he is becoming like Chuck and Mike, like the disrespectful trustfund children of Ivy, he vows to cleanse himself of his foreigner viewpoint.

Old Anarkali
Of all the possible neighborhoods in Lahore, Hamid chooses to set his novel in Old Anarkali. As Changez explains to the American, Old Anarkali is “named… after a courtesan immured for loving a prince” (2). It is a neighborhood in which Mughal structures, including the tomb of Anarkali, are preserved. Therefore, Old Anarkali, like Lahore atlarge, is a reminder of Pakistan’s former greatness.
As a setting, Old Anarkali is important less for its history and more for the way it changes throughout the course of the novel. In the beginning, it is a busy marketplace. As night falls, it becomes a brightly lit walkway. Then as the night advances, it becomes deserted and sinister. In the beginning of Chapter 11, Changez comments on the changing setting:

“It is odd how the character of a public space changes when it is empty; the abandoned amusement park, the shuttered opera house, the vacant hotel: in films these
often figure as backdrops for events intended to frighten. So it is with this market: now that our fellowvisitors have dwindled in number to a sporadic and scattered few, it has taken on a rather more ominous edge.” (155

Hamid uses many layers of symbolism.One of these makes Changez and the American emblems for their respective nations.
In the beginning of the evening, Changez and the American’s newly established relationship is decidedly friendly. Old Anarkali is still well lit and bustling with people, so it seems equally amicable. As the night progresses, Old Anarkali becomes more complex and takes on elements of danger: bats swoop in, the smell of charred meat mixes with that of jasmine blossoms, the festive lights come on only to suddenly go off in a blackout. During this time in Changez’s story, his relationship with America is becoming more complex and fraught. As night advances and Old Anarkali becomes deserted, Changez explains his falling-out with America. Meanwhile, the tension between Changez and the American has come to a head; they have begun to question one another’s integrity.


Mall Road
Mall Road is the setting for the novel’s final chapter. As Changez and the American set out down to the road, the first thing Changez does is point out the juxtaposition of modern, British colonial, and ancient buildings. In returning to the idea of Lahore’s history—and fallen empires—Hamid reminds us heightens our sense of the difference between Changez and the American. Changez is at home on Mall
Road, amidst the evidence of his country’s great past. The American, however, is uncomfortable. In reality, it is the semi-darkness, the men walking behind them on the road, and Changez’s mention of alleys “into which one could imagine being dragged against one’s will, forever to disappear!” that unsettle the American (171). However, symbolically, what unsettles the American is the abundant evidence that
empires fall and that Broadway could one day resemble Mall Road.


New York City
We have already discussed New York in relation to Lahore, a juxtaposition
that casts the Big Apple in an ominous light. However, New York City is also
a place of freedom, empowerment, and pleasure in the story. New York is a
freeing place for Changez, because there, he has exactly what it takes to climb
to the top rung of the corporate ladder; he feels as though he is facing
boundless possibility. Of Underwood Samson, he remembers:


“Their offices were perched on the forty-first and forty-second floors of a building in
midtown—higher than any two structures here in Lahore would be if they were
stacked atop the other—and while I had previously flown in airplanes and visited the
Himalayas, nothing had prepared me for the drama, the
power of the view from their
lobby. This, I realized, was another world from Pakistan; supporting my feet were the
achievements of the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever
known.” (34)


Despite Changez’s firm belief in Lahore’s greatness, which we witnessed in
previous quotes, for a time he believes New York to be not only great, but
greater than the accomplishments of man (airplane flight) and nature (the
Himalayas). In the last line of the quote, he uses the building as a metaphor
for America’s superiority in the world; “supporting my feet were the achievements of the most technologically advanced civilization our species had ever known.”
Like Old Anarkali, New York changes greatly during the course of
The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Initially after 9/11, New York is in mourning: “floral motifs figured prominently in the shrines to thedead and the missing that had sprung up in my absence … photos, bouquets, words of condolence—nestled into street corners and between shops and along the railings of public squares.” Soon, however,
New York dresses itself in a retro, patriotic rage. Changez recalls:


“Your country’s flag invaded New York after the attacks; it was everywhere. Small flags stuck on toothpicks featured in the shrines; stickers of flags adorned windshields and windows; large flags fluttered from buildings. They all seemed to proclaim: We areAmerica—not New York, which in my opinion, meant something quite different—the mightiest civilization the
world has ever known; you have slighted us; beware our wrath. Gazing up at the soaring towers of the city, Iwondered what manner of beast would sally forth fromso grand a castle.” (79)

Not long before 9/11, Changez considered New York the seat of the American empire, a civilization whose awe-inspiring achievements surpassed even the greatness of Mt. Everest. Now, Changez sees New York as separate from America, because America has taken on a new meaning. It is no longer a great, cutting-edge civilization, but a dangerously powerful and reactive “beast.” When Changez deplanes after his flight from Valparaiso, he sees New York as an imperial city of old:

“I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer.” (157)
One Changez realizes that the American empire is like any other, he also understands that his supposedprivileges—his job, his apartment, his expense account—are really the chains that bind him in service toAmerica. Quite opposite from “the most technologically advanced civilization” in history, it is no better for him than the British Empire was for those of low caste.

The Pak-Punjab Deli
The Pak-Punjab Deli is a minor setting within New York, a microcosm of that city as Changez’s childhood home is of Lahore. Like the house, the deli is a backdrop that highlights Changez’s changing identity by contrast.The deli is one aspect of New York that makes Changez feel at home. As much as he may enjoy art gallery openings and bars, he is grateful to have a taste of home nearby. In
the corporate world, Changez must wear a suit and shave to fit in. In Erica’s elite sphere, he must prove his worth by mentioning his Princeton and Underwood Samson accolades. At the Pak-Punjab Deli, Changez can just be himself; going there is like coming home. In fact, the first morning Changez eats there, the cashier refuses to allow him to pay as a sign of kinship.
When Changez returns there that night with Wainwright, his changing identity stands out against the backdrop of the deli. He tries to pay with his corporate credit card, which the deli does not accept. As we will discuss later, there is an air of superiority and even violence to the manner in which Changez “unsheathes” his credit card and leans toward the cashier. After 9/11, the Pak-Punjab Deli becomes a source of underground information: “I ignored as best I could the rumors I heard [there]: Pakistani cabdrivers were being beaten to within an inch of their lives; the FBI was raiding mosques, shops, and even people’s houses; Muslim men were disappearing, perhaps into shadowy detention centers for questioning or worse.” It conveys the worsening state of affairs for Muslims, South Asians, Middle Easterners, and anyone resembling them in America.
Despite the news, Changez’s denial and growing arrogance are strong enough to convince him of his safety. He says, “I reasoned that these stories were mostly untrue … Besides, those rare cases of abuse that regrettably did transpire were unlikely ever to affect me because such things invariably happened, in America as in all countries, to the hapless poor, not to Princeton graduates earning eighty thousand dollars a year” (94-5). When Changez refers to “the hapless poor,” he might as well name the cashier at the Pak-Punjab Deli. After all, this man presumably belongs to the working class, not unlike the cabdrivers who are being beaten nearly to death. Before Changez has his change of heart and rejects American life, he has become the kind of American that he hates; he has a superior attitude and lives without respect or regard for those less privileged than himself.


Athens, Greece
As a setting, Athens ties together several symbols and themes. Erica represents America and Changez’s love affair with her mirrors his relationship with America. Erica’s descent into depression and suicide symbolizes America’s future fall from the position of worldsuperpower. It is fitting, therefore, that Changez and Erica meet in Athens, the seat of a fallen empire.
The island of Rhodes is where Changez and Erica begin their relationship in earnest. Changez explains that in ancient times Rhodes was “part of a wall against the East that still stands.” Then he exclaims,
“How strange it was for me to think I grew up on the other side!” (23). As Changez later discovers, there is a metaphorical wall separating him from Erica, just as the wall in Rhodes separates the East from the West, respectively. Whether that wall is Erica’s grief or Changez’s moral issues with America, or both, Hamid leaves the reader to surmise.


Manila, Philippines
The island of Rhodes separates the West from the East, but Manila is in the East. When Changez flies there (first class, no less) he is symbolically returning home without actually going to Lahore. However, Changez finds Manila to be more similar to New York than to Lahore. It has slums, but it also has skyscrapers and “walled enclaves for the ultrarich,” not unlike Erica’s apartment building (64). Changez suddenly feels ashamed to be a Pakistani—as he initially feels ashamed of his childhood home when he returns to Lahore. His solution is to act as “American” as possible in order to command the same respect as his peers. The shame of being disrespectful to his elders is not so bad as the shame of admitting he is from a poorer place than Manila.
When the Filipino driver glares at Changez, Changez suddenly realizes what a phony he is. It dawns on him that he is more like the Filipino driver than like his American colleagues, an epiphany he will repeat in Valparaiso with Juan-Bautista. Because Manila makes Changez feel separate from America, it is a fitting place for him to witness the 9/11 attacks on television. His reaction—his smile—cements the fact that he is a foreigner where America is concerned.



Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso is the setting that helps Changez realize his loathing for America and his loyalty to Pakistan. Firstly, Valparaiso is, like Lahore, a city fallen from its original heights. Changez recalls:

“… A sense of melancholy pervaded its boulevards and hillsides. I read online about its history and discovered that it had been in decline for over a century; once a great port fought over by rivals because of vessels making their way from the Pacific to the Atlantic, it had been bypassed and
rendered peripheral by the Panama Canal. In this—Valparaiso’s former aspirations to grandeur—I was reminded of Lahore and of that saying, so evocative in our language:
the ruins proclaim the building was beautiful” (144).

Valparaiso’s ubiquitous “sense of melancholy” reflects Changez’s inner conflict over his identity and his national loyalty. The phrase, “the ruins proclaim the building was beautiful” has an ominous meaning because of the then-recent 9/11 attacks; the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon were in ruins at the time. If we follow the saying through, then Changez is implying—whether purposefully or not—
that America will become “peripheral” like Valparaiso and Lahore.
Because America completed the Panama Canal, it is indirectly responsible for rendering Valparaiso obsolete. Therefore, Valparaiso reminds Changez—consciously or unconsciously—not only of Lahore but also of America’s interfering and destructive nature. This is the aspect of America he despises, so it is
appropriate for him to renounce his loyalty to Underwood Samson, and to America, in Valparaiso.
Hamid makes this all the clearer when he has Changez visit Pablo Neruda’s house. There, in the home of an outspoken poet and political dissident, Changez contemplates the vagueness of his own identity. He says he “[lacks] a stable
core,” which we can take to mean clear values. In other words, Changez does
not know where his loyalties lie. Soon after he visits Neruda’s house, Changez finds his “
core,” or rather, Juan-Bautista makes him aware of the values he already holds. Juan-Bautista leads Changez to realize that he is like Neruda; he may not be a communist, but he is rapidly becoming opposed to America’s brand of capitalistic imperialism. Like Neruda, Changez becomes an exile—but of his own accord. He can stay in America as long as he is willing to compromise his values, and in Valparaiso, he realizes that the time for compromise has passed.
By comparing and contrasting Lahore and New York, Hamid highlights Lahore’s greatness as well as the inevitability of America’s decline.
Hamid’s childhood home is a microcosm of Lahore as a whole. It serves as a backdrop for Changez’s changing identity.
The setting of Old Anarkali shifts from bright and bustling to deserted and ominous—mirroring the progression of Changez and the American’s relationship as well as U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Like Old Anarkali, New York changes throughout the course of the novel. It begins as a cuttingedge place, greater than any human invention or natural wonder. It becomes a place of grief, then retro-style patriotic rage, and then danger of ancient imperial proportions.
Like Changez’s childhood home, the Pak-Punjab Deli reflects Changez’s changing identity. At first, he fits in there—but he begins to separate himself from his fellow Pakistanis. He eventually considers himself above them and immune to the prejudices to which they are subject.
Athens is an appropriate setting for the start of Changez and Erica’s relationship because it is the seat of a fallen empire. The island of Rhodes, with its wall, implies symbolically that Changez and Erica can never be together.
Manila makes Changez feel ashamed of Lahore’s relative lack of progress, so he tries to act “American.” Then his encounter with the Filipino driver makes him realize how fake he is acting. Because of this interaction, Changez begins to see himself as separate from his colleagues and from America. His reaction to the 9/11 attacks, which he sees on television in Manila, cements his status as a non-American.
Valparaiso is dually symbolic. Firstly, it is a former great port city, one poised for greatness until the American-built Panama Canal made it obsolete. It is an example of America’s interference in and negative effect on other countries and helps Changez see the malevolent side of America.
Secondly, it is the site of Pablo Neruda’s home. In light of Neruda’s dissidence and his exile, it is fitting for Changez to become a revolutionary in Valparaiso.
Now that you have read this section, consider the following questions:

Consider some of the other minor settings in the novel, such as Princeton and the clinic by the Hudson. How are they significant? What, if anything, do they represent?
How would the novel be different if the last scene took place in the marketplace of Old Anarkali instead of on Mall Road?
Why does Hamid have Erica and Changez meet somewhere other than Princeton?
Why do you think Hamid has Changez travel around the world so much? Why is traveling significant to the changes that happen in Changez?