Exploring Mohsin Hamid’s "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" as a Postcolonial Bildungsroman

An Analysis of the Functions of Changez’ Journeys

Term Paper, 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Postcolonialism as a Form of Literary Analysis

3. The Bildungsroman as Genre

4. The Functions of the Journeys in The Reluctant Fundamentalist
4.1 Departure: Changez’ Migration to America
4.2 Growth: The Journeys to Manila, Lahore and Valparaiso
4.3 Return to Lahore

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“The subject of [the Bildungsroman] is the development of the protagonist’s mind and character, in the passage from childhood through varied experiences­—and often through a spiritual crisis—into maturity and the recognition of his or her identity and role in the world” (Abrams 193). This approach to define the Bildungsroman could be used in order to offer a general statement about a genre that has been—and still is—argued by a great number of authors and literary critics (cf. Stein 22). The genre struggles for a concise definition and “it is not entirely settled what constitutes a bildungsroman” (ibid.). Thus, the term is discussed in several fields of literary theory, one of them being Postcolonialism — a theory that is “centrally concerned with texts arising in some way form the social consequences or historical effects of colonialism, […] still felt today in many cultural effects” (Döring 6). This paper aims to show how a genre can be utilised in order to clarify specific struggles of a fictional character and make them universally accessible to any reader, which proves that Postcolonialism is not only a discussion about the past, but still influences people all over the world as colonialism finds its new ways to establish itself in many parts of the world as the colonial “legacies continue to inflect contemporary geo-political realities and conflicts around the world and impact upon how different people (are forced to) live today” (McLeod 8). Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, one of the most well-known 21st century novels written by a Pakistani author intelligently combines the elements of the Bildungsroman and concepts of Postcolonialism. Changez is the protagonist of a modern Bildungsroman who experiences the power of a new form of colonialism and is made aware of his role as a colonised subject by his journeys throughout a crucial phase of identity formation in his life.

It will, hence, be analysed to what extent this novel adds to the genre of the Bildungsroman by scrutinising the role of Changez’ journeys against the backdrop of a postcolonialist ‘landscape’. In order to do so, the paper subdivides into three main parts. The second chapter will have its focus on Postcolonialism as a form of literary analysis. The third chapter will offer a short introduction to the genre of the Bildungsroman and some of its variations. In chapter four the actual analysis of the novel, addressing the function Changez’ journeys, in the context of the Bildungsroman, will be provided. Primarily, the extent to which Changez’ migration to America fits the genre will be examined. The second subchapter focusses on the trips to Manila and Valparaiso as two contrasting experiences in Changez’ life as well as his trip back home to Lahore between these two journeys. Lastly, the final return to his city of origin, Lahore, in Pakistan will be analysed.

2. Postcolonialism as a Form of Literary Analysis

Prior to analysing a novel in a ‘postcolonial’ context one needs a basic understanding of the term’s origin and its meaning. Postcolonialism first emerged as a field of studies with the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978. Although it was not the first work to criticise colonialism its “success […] did much to encourage new kinds of study and the advent of the term ‘postcolonialism’ in critical circles” (McLeod 26). According to Said, “‘orientalism’ effectively signifies a colonial project the Western desire for domination” (Döring 39). He argued that ‘the orient’ or ‘the east’ is a concept simplifying and generalising a huge and culturally and also intellectually extremely versatile geographical area “set up to serve self-gratifying purposes” (ibid.) by ‘the West’ in order to define itself as superior in terms of “knowledge, production intelligence and enlightenment” (ibid.), subordinating the orient.

The term ‘postcolonial’ gained prominence, when in 1989 The Empire Writes Back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith and Helen Tiffin was published. (cf. ibid. 16) “The authors offered a comprehensive critical approach to contemporary writing from countries once part of the British Empire” (ibid.). ‘Postcolonial literature’ as a name replaced the formerly commonly employed term ‘Commonwealth literature’, which emerged the 1950s (cf. McLeod 12). Commonwealth literature “incorporated the study of […] writers belonging to those countries which were in the process of gaining independence from British rule, such as those from the African, Caribbean and South Asian nations” (ibid.). As American and Irish literature were not associated with the field of study it was solely concerned with literature from those countries once colonised (cf. ibid. 13). What distinguishes Commonwealth literature form Postcolonial literatures is that it is considered to be able to exceed its regional background and become permanently and universally relevant (ibid. 16). “Commonwealth literature certainly dealt with national and cultural issues but the best writing possessed the mysterious power to transcend them too” (ibid. 15) In contrast to that, postcolonial literatures approach texts in a more politicised view in order to “analyse[d] texts primarily within historical and geographical [and cultural] contexts” (ibid. 30). These contexts, while in Commonwealth literature being classified as secondary background adding to the ‘personality’, ‘light’ and ‘colour’ of a text, but not to its universal value (cf. ibid. 17), are fundamental in writing and reading postcolonial texts (cf. ibid. 18). The politicised view was manifested in the study of literatures with the discussion of The Empire Writes Back, in which the three Australian critics argue “the crucial relation between the metropolitan centre, i.e. the mother country and its capital London, and the so-called periphery, i.e. places like Australia which used to be seen, and see themselves, principally in relation to this centre, traditionally deriving all their standard from it” (Döring 16). In their sense “[p]ostcolonial literatures developed through several stages which can be seen to correspond to stages of both national or regional consciousness and of asserting difference from the imperial centre” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 4). Thus, postcolonial “literatures were primarily concerned with writing back to the centre, actively engaged in process of questioning and travestying colonial discourses in their work” (McLeod 28).

Regardless of how ground-breaking the approach by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin was for Postcolonialism to establish as a form of literary analysis, it is nowadays criticised for generalising the wide historical and cultural background of the literature they refer to and “[d]iversity and variety are seemingly denied” (ibid. 30). Postcolonial theory has developed further and expanded since gaining importance academically in the 1990s. By today it has established itself as an academic discipline in its own right, rapidly evolving through new vocabulary and concepts that are added to the field (cf. ibid. 33) in order to investigate the colonial influence on (inter alia) literary texts. Postcolonialism, as a form of literary analysis, is constantly redefined by these new concepts and it does not simply define the era ‘after colonialism’ as an historical epoch. It deals with “both historical continuity and change” (ibid. 39) and “acknowledges that the materialist ideas realities and discursive models of representation established through colonialism are still very much with us today, even if the political map of the world has altered through decolonisation” (ibid.). This vital self-notion can not only be found in Postcolonialism, also in the category of genre, as Maria Lima, in her text Decolonizing Genre, refers to Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems when she argues that “[a] genre […] lives in the present, but always remembers its past, its beginnings” (432). Lima elaborates that the “generic categories and conventions [of the Bildungsroman] are based on a European canon and often ignore issues of gender, race, nationality, location and sexuality” which are all matters examined within Postcolonialism (cf. McLeod): Thus, she offers a postcolonial approach to the genre which is “relevant […] because in recent years postcolonial writing, too, has become ever more interested in exploring such [genre] conventions” (Döring 88)

3. The Bildungsroman as Genre

With the aim of analysing the The Reluctant Fundamentalist as a Bildungsroman one must identify what exactly accounts for the genre to sort out whether there is a specific definition to the term and what the function of this genre is. Traditionally, “the genre [‘Bildungsroman’] is usually dated back to Goethe’s text (1795)” (Lima 431) Wilhelm Meister. However, it is not a purely German genre but a popular form of literary genre also in England and France during the nineteenth century (cf. Hirsch 295). In its original sense, the Bildungsroman tells a story of the character formation and education (which the German term ‘Bildung’ ambiguously implies) of one central character—a young, white, European male protagonist (cf. Stein 23). However, novels such as Jane Austen have expanded this novel in the nineteenth century (cf. ibid.) “[T]he traditional Bildungsroman goal [is that] of accommodation to the existing society, of ending the novel with a character’s ‘precise stand and assessment of himself and his place in society’” Lima refers to Marianne Hirsch’s approach (Lima 434, f.) and proclaims that “[t]he hero of the classical Bildungsroman is thus engaged with the double task of self-integration an d integration into society” (ibid. 438). The formation and education “takes him [the character] or her out of familial or educational institutions (and possibly society at large) and through a crisis, before, and this is crucial, a return to the fold” (Stein 23). The integration thus can only succeed if there is an unbending social order that repeatedly collides with the individual needs of the hero (cf. Hirsch 298). “In the male European model for the Bildungsroman, it is education which enables the protagonist to choose, too accept or reject the values he is presented with” (Lima 437) and the collisions of values and the protagonist experiences “appear as necessary growth points through which the individual must pass on his way to a progressively higher state of maturity and harmony” (ibid. 438). A crucial pattern that any Bildungsroman follows in, rarely all, but at least the majority of its characteristics was described by Jerome Buckley in 1974:

A child of some sensibility grows up in the country or in a provincial town, where he finds constraints, social and intellectual, placed upon the free imagination. His family, especially his father proves doggedly hostile to his creative instincts or flights of fancy, antagonistic to his ambitions, and quite impervious to the new ideas he has gained from unprescribed reading. His first schooling, even if not totally inadequate may be frustrating insofar as it may suggest options not available to him in his present setting. He therefore, sometimes at quite early age, leaves the repressive atmosphere of home (and also the relative innocence), to make his way independently in the city (in the English novels usually London). There his real ‘education’ begins, not only his preparation for a career but also—and often more importantly—his direct experience of urban life. […] By the time he has decided, after painful soul-searching, the sort of accommodation to the modern world he can honestly make, he has left his adolescence behind and entered upon his maturity. (17, f.)

Regardless, this traditional definition of the Bildungsroman excludes a vast number of works that it implies to describe:

Narrower definitions of the term bildungsroman, tied to a humanist concept of formation/education (Bildung) as current during Goethe’s lifetime, prove problematical in that, then as today, not a single homogenous understanding was in circulation. Moreover, to limit the bildungsroman genre to particular ideological concepts of education is bound to exclude texts on ideological ground. (Stein 24)

Due to this, there are new approaches to the term that, nowadays, is in fact applied in a broader sense than only to novels with the characteristics mentioned above (cf. Hirsch 294). Hence, there occur several synonyms for the term ‘Bildungsroman’ as the critics find these more suitable for their expanded definitions, since different cultures adapt generic conventions to their individual needs (cf. Lima 432). Lima for instance, broadens the term in a postcolonial sense: “While contemporary post-colonial novels of formation continue to ask the genre’s traditional questions about the relationship between experience, subjectivity, and social structures, they explore all its possibilities, thereby expanding the genre” (434). In contrast to the traditional Bildungsroman, the postcolonial only looks at a short time span in the protagonist’s life (cf. ibid. 435). He finds himself in a cultural Middle Passage due to his inner dichotomous belonging to the Western culture, as he was educated by the Western educational system, and the traditional culture of his home, that he grows away from as a result of the Western education (cf. ibid. 434). Thus, he “occupies the position of both ‘self’ and ‘other’, thereby throwing into relief the conflict between the traditional and the ‘inherited’ brought about by colonization” (ibid. 440). Lima expands the genre by paying attention to issues of gender, race, class, nationality, location and sexuality (cf. ibid. 432). Another approach, by Mark Stein, is the novel of transformation which is characterised by a protagonist that often feels misrepresented by media or politicians and a conflict between the protagonist and the parental generation as well as society at large (cf. 25). According to him the Bildungsroman “follow[s] a simple basic pattern of departure, growth, and return” (57), referring the novel of transformation to Buckley’s concept. Furthermore, Geta LeSoer invented the term ‘Black Bildungsroman’ to show the issues of growing up black and she “sees the ‘Black Bildungsroman’ […] as a mode of protest” (ibid. 27). refusing to link the genre to its European origin. “Her terminology serves to set off novels by black authors from those of white authors” (ibid.), which shows that the genre is bent so for that the origin should, in this case, not even serve as a role model.


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Exploring Mohsin Hamid’s "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" as a Postcolonial Bildungsroman
An Analysis of the Functions of Changez’ Journeys
University of Bonn
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exploring, changez’, functions, analysis, bildungsroman, postcolonial, fundamentalist, reluctant, hamid’s, mohsin, journeys
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Anonymous, 2017, Exploring Mohsin Hamid’s "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" as a Postcolonial Bildungsroman, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/497733


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