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Theme Of The Loss Of Personal Identity In The Reluctant Fundamentalist And 1984

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“The term “personal identity” means different things to different people. Psychologists use it to refer to a person’s self-image — to one’s beliefs about the sort of person one is and how one differs from others.” (Olson). Identity relates to self, person, individual: how you are and what you are. However, in our effort to define self-identity, we seem to call upon different kinds of labels based on sex, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, nationality, and religion, and et cetera. This paper will discuss about the loss of personal identity in 1984 and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Changez is the protagonist of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. His character is complex and diverse from the rest. It is volatile and his perspective of his identity is irresolute. Before the World Trade was destroyed, Changez tries his best to camouflage his Pakistani identity under the mask of American identity, trying to complete assimilation into American culture. As a Princeton university graduate, he adores its Gothic beauty and thought as if his American dream ‘come true’. He seems to be a good melting pot New York. Changez moves to New York City due to his new job and feels very comfortable living in this multicultural city. Because of this cultural, no one seems to identify him as foreign or not being a New Yorker. Diversity being one of the main principles of the U.S., it is not unusual for Changez to hear the taxi driver speak his native language or to eat Pakistani food at one of the city’s delis and working together with other nonwhite internationals. However, the protagonist’s foreign outer appearance naturally serves as means to classify him, for instance, when he was invited for dinner at Erica’s house, Erica’s father automatically identifies Changez as Muslim and as a non-drinker. Reicher has stated that this is a perfectly natural behavior: Just as personal identity defines our uniqueness relative to the individual, so our distinctive social identity is defined by what marks us out as different from other groups. Social identities are necessarily defined in comparative terms and so group members indulge in social comparison between their ingroup and relevant outgroups.

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Consequently, people always classify other people according to characteristics that will distinguish the others from themselves. It is a natural way of classification and obviously helps us make sense of our environment. Pre 9/11 makes him feel at home in America, but he feels disillusioned after 9/11. The welcoming nature of New York seems to be an illusion and not a reality anymore. Post 9/11 scenario demands peace and an end of extremism, but the strategy to secure peace by America is equally extremism such as war on terror ‘the bombing of Afghanistan’. According to Post 9/11, Change’s foreign outer appearance becomes a sign for “otherness”. Changez becomes more conscious of his personal identity and finds an end to his identity crisis. The event that he clearly identifies with his homeland Pakistan is: “I chanced upon a newscast with ghostly night-vision images of American troops dropping into Afghanistan for what was described as a daring raid on a Taliban command post. My reaction caught me by surprise; Afghanistan was Pakistan’s neighbor, our friend, and a fellow Muslim nation besides, and the sight of what I took to be the beginning of its invasion by your countrymen caused me to tremble with fury.” He feels the allegiance with the neighboring countries of Pakistan, but an exclusion from the discursive promoted intense patriotism in the U.S., Changez’ nationality becomes suddenly more important for both him and his environment in New York City. He is no more torn between his social identities as Pakistani born and American resident. He now clearly identifies himself with his native country Pakistan. For other Americans, however, his foreign outer appearance becomes a mean of imputing allegiance to terrorist cells. His returning to Pakistan is a decision concerned with the sense of identity instead of religious fundamentalism. He lacks any sense of belonging with American society.

The feeling of alienation is so strong as to push him back to his homeland. Americans looked at him as an outcaste and a lackey of attackers. He says, “I lacked a stable core. I was not certain where I belonged, in New York, in Lahore, in both, in neither…”. Changez addresses a “stable core” that can be seen as his personal identity because he is torn between the U.S. and Pakistan and he apparently feels he cannot reconcile his American or New Yorker and Pakistani identity, Changez fails to impersonate his identity. His appearance, the one who was identified by others as a Pakistani prince, an American meritocracy, turns out not to be his substance or true identity. Therefore, he senses the displacement for both Lahore and New York. In conclusion, loss of identity is the major dilemma faced by people caught up between two worlds. They often end as aliens in both worlds although they try their best to blend into the surrounding environment. It is difficult to proclaim one’s identity, while various conflicting groups at war with one another deprive an individual of the basic right. For 1984, Winton Smith is suppressed his identities by a powerful group in the society.

01 February 2021

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