Resisting Dominant Fixed Identities in Jasmine and The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Wayne Reed


One of the central themes of the multicultural debate is liberalism’s incompatibility with some cultural identities.  Recent criticism has attributed this problem to the tendency of multiculturalists to adopt fixed identities rooted in uncritical notions of race, religion, or nation that clash with liberalism.  Bharati Mukerjee’s Jasmine and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist pose the opposite problem: what happens when a dominant culture seeks to impose a fixed identity on a person who seeks identity through liberal principles?  Both protagonists pursue identity in a globalized Post Cold War United States, and while Jasmine finds a future in the U.S. that frees her of the deterministic structures of India, Changez finds the Post 9/11 atmosphere in the U.S. antagonistic to his pursuit of a cosmopolitan identity.  I argue that these novels not only reveal the immigrant’s struggle for a place in the U.S., but also help us understand the immigrant’s struggle with dominant cultures that pressure them into a fixed identity, whether it be a culture that assigns identity at birth or one that imposes a national identity on an immigrant as a condition of his status as a guest while exploiting his homeland.  Though the differences of the novel reflect two different phases of a Post Cold War United States (pre- and post-9/11), the similarities in resisting fixed identities confirm K. Anthony Appiah’s assertion that “in developing [my own identity] I must fight against… society, the school, the state – all forces of convention.”

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Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature