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The Namesake is the first novel from Pulitzer-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, focusing on the division between assimilated American children and Indian migrants. The author analyzes Ganguli family, beginning with Ashoke’s close confrontation with death when he gets through a train crash in his homeland, India (Lahiri 50). Apparently, this took place when he was reading his cherished novel by Nikolai Gogol. During his stay in the United States of America with his wife, he chooses to name his newborn child Gogol, which was a pet name. Later, this turns out to be his official name, and Gogol is oblivious of the importance behind it. Thus, this piece analyses the American identity in the novel, The Namesake by exploring the role of family, culture, and environment in shaping American identity.
The author demonstrates how Gogol struggles to come home both spiritually and physically because his family is penniless (Lahiri 52). His desire to travel is to escape, instead of reaching a specific destination. Additionally, the changing of his official name from Gogol to Nikhil, his marriage to Moushumi and the premature death of his father marks his turning point. Consequently, these experiences influence the decision to leave and return home using Pemberton Road. As attends college, he avoids going back to his parents’ home. Notably, he is staying away from his Indian origin, since he sees America as a typical public social zone and India as the private social zone (Fibingerová 10). Furthermore, in his early years, the family's journey to India to meet their relatives is not essential to him as it is for his parents. In the same context, spending time with his Bengali allies in the States is not essential. Surprisingly, as much as he avoids his origin, approving his Indian name, Nikhil, does not seem to bother him. Also, his career preferences serve as a tribute to his relatives in India. As a result, Gogol develops a passion for art, leading him to seek a career as an architect in honor of his grandpa who was an artist. From this observation, it becomes clear that Gogol does not feel displaced because he is in America. Also, he embraces his Indian relatives in his native home and feels more of an Indian than an American.
On the other hand, Maxine comes from an affluent family. She imitates her parents by complimenting their ways and tastes. Also, at the dinner table, Maxine disagrees with her parents regarding paintings, books and the folks they knew. More importantly, she differs with them like a disagreement with a friend. Also, her parents do not pressurize her to do something, unlike Gogol’s parents. Besides, Maxine lives faithfully and happily. About this, Maxine is brought up as a proud American child, and the way she interacts with her parents makes her uphold the American identity. Most importantly, Maxine likes spending time with her parents, unlike Gogol who tries to avoid their home, a clear indication that the well-being of Maxine’s family influenced her to uphold the American identity.
Maxine’s parents are displayed as people who are willing to accommodate others. On the contrary, Gogol’s parents cannot tolerate welcoming individuals into their homes. As a result, this act of hospitality influences Gogol to believe that American should be an ideal identity for him since it stands for cohesion and forgiveness. For instance, Maxine who resides in Boston went back to her parents' house after breaking up with her boyfriend. Even more, Gogol befriended those of American origin, Ruth, and Maxine, hence, promoting the acceptance of the American identity among immigrants.
The author focuses on how culture helped in shaping up the American identity. Bengali rituals motivate the naming of Gogol. As a result, he is given a pet name, which is used in Indian tradition, rather than a name that is deemed to be right in their culture. According to the Bengali tradition, one is given two names to be used in distinct social situations. The proper name is meant to be used for identification in the outside world, appear on academic certificates, for addressing envelopes, in telephone briefings and for use in public spaces. Also, the perceived good name represented dignity and knowledgeable qualities (Lahiri 53). Further, the two names represent two distinct social areas. First, the pet names were meant to be used in a family regarded as the private social space and secondly, the right name used in the outside world is considered to be the public social space. Notably, this was done so as Gogol would identify himself as a Bengali and feel part of the tradition. However, Gogol later renounces the pet name and rebuffs the social area where such a name was intended to be used. Therefore, this indicates that Gogol was opposed to the Bengali identity compared to the American character. Gogol felt that the American Naming system was more appealing to him than the Indian.
On the contrary, American children such as Maxine are named after their ancestors. A new-born in the U.S is allowed to be taken home by his or her parents if he or she has a birth certificate. However, in the Indian tradition, a baby’s name is solemn, sacrosanct and cannot be shared or inherited. Later, Gogol Appreciates the American way of naming; he feels more attached to the culture compared to his native Indian. Therefore, the diversities in culture play a crucial role in shaping the American identity, which the author refers to as a sign of respect (Lahiri 54)
The author discusses cultural practices of the Indians during the death of a family member. The death of a relative meant that the family had to be on a mourner’s diet. Also, death in the Indian culture served as a way of bringing together family members (Fibingerová 20). Notably, this is observed during the death of Ashoke and Gogol’s father when all family members traveled back home along Pemberton Road. Consequently, Gogol finds this disturbing but he starts to appreciate the fact that he is Indian. Further, the burning of the corpse disturbed Gogol who saw the American way of burying and having a stone bear the name of the deceased on the grave to be ideal. Subsequently, Gogol identifies himself as an American, given that he did not want to be burnt after he dies as this would disconnect him from America. Such denial of the Indian cultural practice by native Indians propagated the acceptance of the American identity among those who believed that the American culture respected the death and celebrated their life, unlike the Indian culture.
Marriage and dating
Equally, the author explores on how marriage and dating affect the American identity. Among the Indians, parents initiated the first meeting during dating. Also, they were the one who decided on the right time when their daughter or son should be married. For instance, Gogol’s mother, Ashima, initiates the first meeting between Gogol and Moushumi Mazoomdar (Fibingerová 25). On the other hand, Maxine’s parents played no role in the relationship between their daughter and the boyfriend from Boston; they allowed their daughter to choose independently. Consequently, this resulted in many Indian immigrants to practice what the American culture dictated; to date and marry at will, thus spreading the American identity as more immigrants were willing to be assimilated into the American culture. After all, not letting kids marry the spouse of their choice is more barbaric and in most cases, the civilized, which includes the rich- Maxine's family, may not have time to keep track of their kids' dating tendencies, rather spend such valuable time doing productive activities.
The American food plays a crucial role in the shaping of the American identity and provides a clear distinction between the poor and the rich. For instance, Gogol and Sonia preferred the American food; boiled eggs, and turkeys to Bengali food (Mangayarkarasi 56). Consequently, Indian parents had to integrate the American way of living to cater for their children's needs, making the assimilation of the American way of life prominent among the young Indians. However, this facilitates diminishing of the Indian culture as more young Indians such as Gogol appreciate the American identity at the expense of their origin, with the belief that gaining such a personality would lead him to the life he dreams. On the other, Maxine is proud to be part of an American rich family.
Believing in Jesus Christ
Americans believe in Jesus Christ, whereas Indians believe in Durga and Sarawati (Mangayarkarasi 58). However, Indians find it more appealing to engage in Easter activities and the Christmas celebration. For instance, Gogol and Sonia join Christians in celebrating the birth of Christ. Furthermore, Gogol, in particular, admired the American cultural values, forcing him to adopt both the American and Indian cultural values, given that other immigrants who came to work in the U.S found it necessary to adopt the American way of worshipping, thus, spreading the American values.
The author highlights that Maxine and her parents reside in a luxurious townhouse, whereas Gogol's family has an average suburban house. Consequently, living in these two environments plays a role in shaping the American identity. As a result of the well-being of Americans, more Indians saw the need to come and work in the U.S to earn a living that would give them better lives as those of Americans- classic and comfortable life. Thus, they detach from their Indian values, taking up American values so as not to feel like strangers, but as part of other Americans. Gogol visit to Maxine’s family house influences him to consider disowning his Indian identity to take up the American way of living.
In summary, the American identity has been shaped dramatically by family, cultural practices, and environment. In particular, the American naming, way of worship and food have played a vital role in assimilating more immigrants. Also, the classic and comfortable living associated with it has led to a majority of immigrants abandoning their native practices in favor of the American way of life. Finally, family organization and interaction in American families have also had a hand in the assimilation of more immigrants.
Fibingerová, Aneta. "The Journey Motif in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake: The American Indian Characters and Their Intricate Ways towards Universal Human Identity."DP_Fibingerova_2015 (2015): 1-80. Print.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. London: Mariner Books, 2004. Print.
Mangayarkarasi, k. "Journal of Humanities and Social Science."Cultural Alienation and Loss of Identity in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2017): 57-60. print.
—. "Journal of Humanities and Social Science."Cultural Alienation and Loss of Identity in JhumpaLahiri’s The Namesake (2017): 57-60. Print .
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