The novel “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri, exquisitely captures the life events of a certain Bengali immigrant family, the Ganguli’s. The Novel captures the cultural and ethnic dilemmas that are placed upon Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli by the norms of American culture. This predicament is transferred to their first child Gogol.
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Gogol Ganguli is raised between the norms of American and Bengali cultural tendencies. This exposure and way of life have implemented a mental tug of war on which he finds trouble identifying as Bengali (His parent’s culture) because of the tendencies American culture has influenced on his perspective. The Namesake follows the contradiction of Gogol Ganguli and the constant identity crisis he experiences throughout his lifetime. From his childish years fueled with resentment towards his birth name, to his teenage years being shamed by the American friends of his strange cultural tendencies, and even in his adult life where he goes as far as too reject his association with Bengali culture because he has assimilated into white culture. The entire novel highlights events that prompted the journey that was Gogol’s identity construction through his family, specific events, and essentially his different experiences with cultures other than his own.
I personally enjoyed the book because it had material that any third world immigrant and children of immigrants could easily relate too. For example, Gogol explained the embarrassment he felt towards his parents when their accents strongly pierce English words and their mispronunciation of such typical words in the English language. As an immigrant child, I too felt this humiliation as friends constantly ridiculed me of why my parents can’t speak proper English and have broken accents. I essentially became a translator for individuals who were unable to comprehend my parents broken English. Gogol also mentions the struggle of being the child of a third world immigrant, the pressure on your shoulders to be successful, work hard, and prescribing into the ideal mold your parents have created.
This was the struggle Gogol, I, children of immigrants, and immigrants face because of the toxic dominant culture of Americans that institutes this divide between cultures. The focus on the phenomena of confusion in identity set my mood for the whole entire book, I became enticed by the whole persona of Gogol because we had similar mentalities at one point. The book no longer was a chore given by an instructor, I realized it was quintessential to my growth as an individual, to hear that I was not alone in these horrendous ideologies as a child which made me hate my culture is a sigh of relief. Through the reading of this book, I was able to understand the very basis of my feelings when I was a child. To hear a story like my own only strengthened the importance of never losing touch with my culture.
Regarding the book, however, in my opinion, it greatly captured the very essence of the material we are learning in ethnic studies. Though the family of Gogol is pivotal to his story, I would rather centralize on certain events that both awakened and silenced Gogol’s passion for his culture. Despite having clear instruction from his father that Gogol would be addressed by his good name “Nikhil”, an incident during Gogol’s first year in school forced the hands of Ashima and Ashoke to abolish their standard of culture and abide by the rules of the American education system. Ashima and Ashoke were told that the two-name situation was confusing staff and even their child and decided without consent that Gogol would be his permanent name throughout the school year, no implementation of his good name anywhere. Little did they know this change of lifestyle would affect more than just their culture, it was the start of Gogol’s assimilation into the dominant culture, white culture.
As Gogol grew, he was ridiculed by the thoughts and opinions of individuals that questioned the origins and strangeness of his name. Gogol began to derive hate from those comments and applied them to the very target of discrimination, his name. Going as far too even question and be antagonized by the very utterance of such a defining part of any human being. This enmity caused by his name stayed with him throughout his young adult years. Thanks to this mentality, Gogol grew mentally and emotionally tired, so he was determined to find a way around this everyday problem.
When he turned 18, Gogol decided to get his name legally changed. Though frowned upon by his Ashima and Ashoke his Bengali parents, they had already been lenient enough to let Gogol be his defining name instead of an identity only close relatives would know, so, they did not see this as much as a problem. So, with a pen and signature, Gogol has received the blessing from his parents to legally changed his name. At this time, Gogol has never felt more liberated in his life, Gogol began to fantasize about the endless possibilities of having his name changed, from not being shy at parties, not having to explain the origins of his name every time he was to introduce it, and lastly, he was jubilant at the chance he was able to start over.
For the first time in Gogol’s life, he had a sense of identity, he was no longer Gogol but Nikhil, a fresh new start was on this horizon. Gogol took this opportunity and fully utilized it in numerous ways, but the main one I would like to highlight is the confidence this change gave Gogol. Gogol was no longer the shy, timid, and unapproachable, he held his head up high now that the burden of his name Gogol was no longer a public issue, only something his parents would call him.
The confidence helps him in attaining his very first real girlfriend Ruth, and a more vital woman in his journey of identity construction, Maxine. Maxine plays the interesting role of the girlfriend that introduced to a whole new world, Maxine is Gogol’s Aladdin basically. It is through Maxine sadly Gogol indulges himself in a culture while rejecting his affiliation with his genuine culture. This assimilation into white culture once again adds to the toxicity Gogol already has for his Bengali culture. Gogol begins to eat western influenced delicacies that impact the view he has on Bengali delicacies and thought this is a small change in behavior it has everlasting effects on his relationship with Bengali culture. Gogol has taken such a liking to this way of life, he indulges with Maxine and her family for months without a care in the world for his family or culture. Until tragedy struck the Ganguli Family.
With the majority of Gogol’s life being a testimony of not abiding by certain cultural Bengali tendencies and lifestyle choices, one event hit close to home for him which subsequently gravitated him back to the Bengali way of life, the death of his Father Ashoke. Despite their father and son relationship which generally adheres to masculine normality’s, there is one intimate moment they shared that Gogol has never forgotten, the night in which his Father told him the Origin of his name and how Gogol saved his life. That night was filled with confusion, loathing, and strangely a sense of calamity because for years Gogol thought his name was a product of his father’s favorite author, little did he know the symbolism and power of his name. Memories like this plagued Gogol’s mind as he slowly started to comprehend the death of his father. This death though melancholy forced Gogol to once again connect to his culture deeply in respects of the great man his Father was. Gogol reinstituted cultural beliefs, practices, and ideologies because the death of his Father was so abrupt, and Gogol knew no other way to cope with this untimely occasion. Yet, this was beneficial to Gogol because he was at the brink of cutting any strings attached to his Bengali culture, Gogol was blind to see that he had been whitewashed by American culture to believe his race, beliefs, and ideologies were inferior to those of American culture. Gogol was now aware of his disconnection with his culture and through the death of his father understood the importance of his Bengali culture.
In conclusion, Gogol may have had his battle with various identities but in the end found the best of both worlds by making the perfect blend of Bengali culture and American culture. He stayed obedient to his Bengali roots with certain cultural tendencies while infusing American holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving into their daily lives. Those examples only cover the tip of the iceberg but thoroughly explains the practices that the American-Indian individual Gogol has learned to accept and love. There is no disconnect or favoring of one culture rather an ideal synthesis of cultures that thoroughly define the livelihood of Gogol Nikhil Ganguli. All that trial, tribulation, and self-questioning because of a name Gogol? Goodness sake that must have been such a hassle!
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