Pitfalls of Ambiguity in Contexts of Islamophobia: Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Studies in the Novel
This article examines the implications of particular representational and narrative strategies that postcolonial writers, especially from Muslim-majority nations, can utilize to respond to 9/11 and its aftermath. Mohsin Hamid's novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist has been hailed as the paradigmatic counter-discursive, antiimperialist, non-Western Muslim response. Literary scholars of various stripes have tended to regard its sustained ambiguities and deliberately incomplete ending as a sign of its richness. However, this article intervenes to offer instead a nuanced critique of Hamid's uses of ambiguity, based on postcolonial feminist literary analysis and a reading of actual readers' readings. Drawing on Hamid's own stated goals and a variety of readers' responses—from lay Amazon readers, to professional Western reviewers, to literary critics—it argues that Hamid's use of ambiguity risks sabotaging the fulfillment of those admirable goals. Though aiming to educate readers about how their own preconceptions shape their reading, Hamid underestimates the power of unequal global relations and prevalent Islamophobic preconceptions, and tilts the case against the protagonist-narrator on whose reliability so much depends. The article thus offers not only a rereading and reassessment of a key novel, but also a critical mode of rethinking celebrated narrative practices in the context of global post-9/11 geopolitics.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Licensed to Smith College and distributed CC-BY under the Smith College Faculty Open Access Policy.
Hai, Ambreen, "Pitfalls of Ambiguity in Contexts of Islamophobia: Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2020). English Language and Literature: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.