The Namesake - A Psychoanalytical Interpretation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1) Introduction

2) The Basic Concepts
2.1) The Dyad and the Dyadic Relationship
2.2) Object and Object Relation
2.3) The Triad and the Triadic Relationship
2.4) The Oedipal Triangle
2.5) The Oedipus Complex
2.6) Castration Anxiety
2.7) Imago
2.8) Repression

3) The Line of Thought

4) Interpretation of The Namesake

5) Implications
5.1) Gogol
5.2) Gogol and Ashoke
5.3) Gogol and Ashima

6) Conclusion

7) Annotations

8) List of Works Cited
8.1) Primary Literature
8.2) Secondary Literature

1) Introduction:

In this paper, we will attempt a psychoanalytically tinted interpretation of one, if not the main character in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. To be more specific, we intend to concentrate on Gogol Ganguli.

As the novel is said to portray "… conflicts that … haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs" (Lahiri reverse of the novel), we should thus be allowed to ask what conflicts ? Is it true that there are several conflicts or is it possible that there exists only one major conflict ?

With these questions in mind and the feeling that there is something in the text we are not explicitly told, we decided to try a psychoanalytical interpretation of Gogol – an interpretation which allows us to approach the text as follows:

We will first provide the definitions of the basic concepts and ideas. As these concepts and ideas are not only abstract, but contradictory to a certain degree, we feel obliged to simplify and generalize these notions – without falsifying or distorting the basic concepts.

Secondly, we will provide the reader with our line of argument. In other words, we will piece together the basic notions in order to form a coherent line of thought.

The third step consists of an application of this line of thought to the text, which, in turn, is expected to yield new insights.

As we are convinced that this approach provides new insights, we will deal with their implications in step four. This then brings us to the conclusion of the paper, which will take the form of a short summary of all our findings.

2) The Basic Concepts:

As we already indicated in the introductory section, the purpose of this chapter is to provide the reader with the necessary ideas and concepts of psychoanalysis and thus enable him or her to follow our line of argument. Among the concepts to be defined are the following:

The dyad and the dyadic relationship (Blos 5), object and object relation (Milton, et al. 25), the triad and the triadic relationship (Blos 4), the "Oedipal triangle" (Young 6), the Oedipus complex (Young 3 – 5), castration anxiety (Milton, et al. 29), the concept of the "imago" (Luquet 6) and the idea of "repression" (Milton, et al. 20).

2.1) The Dyad and the Dyadic Relationship:

With the term "dyad" (Blos 5), we will refer to the intimate union of mother and infant that is formed at the moment of birth and which lasts roughly to the weaning of the infant (Eisenbud 17). In this phase, … it is the mother with whom any … infant … sustains its most intimate emotional and physical relationship. … It is her voice, her body, and her face that the infant knows best, and it is she whom above all others [the infant] seeks out for pleasure, protection, and comfort. As a consequence, it is the mother who is the primary object of the infant’s emotional attachment (Spiro 449 – 450).

To be more specific, the dyad is marked by a particularly intense and caring "… mother – nursling relationship …" (Eisenbud 1). It is "… regulated by a delicate interplay of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and still other signals …" (Eisenbud 1).

2.2) Object and Object Relation:

“Object”, as we can deduce from Spiro’s statement above, is the person or the thing to whom or which the neonate attaches emotionally. As "… the neonate does not always clearly distinguish its hand from the [mother’s] breast and even from the mother’s face …" (Eisenbud 5), we may conclude that the infant’s "… body image is far from clear …" (Eisenbud 5). This actually means that the neonate has no conception of itself and his or her environment and does not distinguish between human beings, individuals, and inanimate things, objects, as we, as adults, have come to. In terms of our understanding of psychoanalysis, “object” then has to be understood as a subsumption for both, human beings (Milton, et al. 25) and the inanimate objects which, in case of absence, may replace the human caregiver (Eisenbud 5).

Furthermore, depending on the frequency with which the infant’s requests (Spiro 450) are fulfilled and also how they are fulfilled (Blos 50), attachment to the care giver may be positive or negative.

We have to add that this is an instance, where we – at least partially – deviate from common psychoanalytical theory: We have come to understand this attachment as positive, if it propels the child’s growth. We understand this attachment as negative in cases in which the child is rejected, neglected or abandoned to an extent that it harms the growth of the infant and forces the child to look for some "mother – surrogate" (Spiro 455) or, in later stages, father – surrogate such as the teddy bear.

2.3) The Triad and the Triadic Relationship:

Heretofore, we focussed on a very early stage of infant development and its exclusive mother – child relationship. As the infant grows with time, we have to expand our concept of the dyadic mother – child relationship and include the father. In other words, as time proceeds, the dyad develops into the triad of father, mother, and child, in which these "… three parties [are] simultaneously involved in emotional interaction. … [E]ach party pursues his or her aim of need gratification in a circular transaction" (Blos 4).

2.4) The Oedipal Triangle:

The exclusive and earliest bonding is reflected in the mother – child unit, the archaic dyad, …. The dyadic stage continues the … one – to – one attachment, but … this is [later on] extended to both parents in an interchangeable dualism. Their gender difference is acknowledged, but the attachment emotions are equally experienced in relation to each of both parents (Blos 5).

Precisely the extension of the "one – to – one attachment" (Blos 5) to the father is what we consider a turning point in infant development. At this point in time, the dyad transforms into the before mentioned triad. But the triad has not yet turned into an "Oedipal triangle" (Young 6).

Although Blos points out that "[t]he triadic stage is traditionally referred to as the Oedipal stage …" (Blos 4), a word of clarification is needed: The first stage of infant development is the "dyadic stage" (Blos 5) which is marked by an exclusive mother – child relationship (Eisenbud 1). This stage is succeeded by the "triadic stage" (Blos 4) of which the "Oedipal stage" (Blos 4) is – as it occurs to us and contrary to the elaborations of Blos – a subordinate stage within. Nevertheless, the "Oedipal stage" (Blos 4) is of importance as the triad then turns into the "… Oedipal triangle, wherein a child … wants exclusive access to the parent of the opposite sex … and has to come to terms with the prior claims of the same – sex parent" (Young 6). This implies that emotional need gratification – as pursued by the participants involved – takes on a sharper edge than in the "preoedipal" (Blos 5) triad.

2.5) The Oedipus Complex:

… Oedipus complex means that children from about three to six years have intense loving feelings towards one parent and seek to possess that parent exclusively, while having strong negative feelings towards the other parent. Boys love their mothers and hate their fathers. Girls do too, but they move on to hate their mothers and to seek to possess their fathers. At the unconscious level, these feelings are sexual towards the desired parent and murderous towards the same – sex parent. … Out of the resolution of the Oedipus complex comes the conscience …. Children learn not to act on violent impulses and to obey the rules of civilisation and the conventions of culture and society…. People who do not successfully work through their Oedipus complex are left immature, unable to get on, feel hung up about one or both parents, get involved in acting out rather than containing their psychological difficulties and / or experience stasis in their careers and relationships, have impaired impulse control and difficulty with authority … (Young 3 – 5).

A word of clarification might be needed here: The "… centrepiece of psychoanalytic … theory" (Milton, et al. 29) – the Oedipus complex – is not simply another label for the "Oedipal stage" (Blos 4). It is merely the case that the term "Oedipus complex" incorporates several meanings: First of all, it is a concept, developed by Sigmund Freud (Young 3), that is intended to explain the dynamics of the "Oedipal stage" (Blos 4). Secondly, the term itself relates also to the outcome of what has to be understood as an unlucky termination of the "Oedipal stage" (Blos 4) – namely the unsuccessful separation (Milton, et al. 31) from the parents.

2.6) Castration Anxiety:

According to Freud, … Oedipal wishes [are] given up as a result of fear; for example the boy fears that his father may punish him by castration …. Because of this fear … the little boy gives up his ambition [to possess the mother] …. In so doing he internalises his father, accepting his father as both an external and an internal authority (Milton, et al. 29).

In other words, the father plays an important role in the dissolution of the Oedipus complex. The father, by unknowingly exposing the little boy to the threat of castration, promotes the internalization of "… the rules of civilisation and the conventions of culture and society …" (Young 4), which again are represented by the father as one of the primary "… external … authorit[ies]" (Milton, et al. 29) – the mother being the other authority.

2.7) Imago:

"[I]mago" (Luquet 6) is the technical term used to describe the "… unconscious image of our early caretakers" (Luquet 6), which "… each of us carries within our psyche …" (Luquet 6). Depending on the presence or absence of emotional interaction (Blos 4), but also interaction in general between caretaker and neonate, such images may be positive or negative.

For further differentiation, we will use the following terminology derived from Oedipus The King by Sophocles1: "Polybus" for the image of the good father, the father that is available and able to satisfy the infant’s emotional needs (Blos 4), and "Laius" for the image of the bad, the incapable father. Similarly, "Merope" denotes the image of the good mother while "Jocasta" denotes the bad mother.

2.8) Repression:

Repression is a "… central defence [mechanism] …, in which unacceptable feelings and thoughts are pushed from consciousness …. The repressed material remains …'under tension' [meaning it is constantly] pushing towards expression …" (Milton, et al. 20). This implies that the repressed feelings require some sort of valve, so that they can be channelled and catalyzed (Milton, et al. 21).

So far, we have laid out the relevant concepts of psychoanalysis. Thus our next step has to be the arrangement of these ideas in a coherent line of thought.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


The Namesake - A Psychoanalytical Interpretation
Saarland University  (Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Anglophone Kulturen)
India & the American Dream: Fictional Examples
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
435 KB
Namesake, Jhumpa, Lahiri, Freud, Psychoanalysis, Postcolonial, Anglo-Indian
Quote paper
Jens Pfundstein (Author), 2008, The Namesake - A Psychoanalytical Interpretation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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