The Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri: Compare and Contrast

Table of Contents

Introduction

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake expresses a complex combination of the emotions and feelings of the main characters who are trying to understand their places in society and identify themselves. The author shows an immigrant father, Ashoke, and his son, Gogol, who, despite different upbringings and cultural affiliations, go through similar difficulties. The main difference between Gogol and Ashoke is expressed in their self-identification with different cultures, but they are similar in their desire to find their place in society and keep their identities.

Main body

Gogol and Ashoke are from the same family but different cultures. Ashoke feels like a stranger in the United States and misses India, although he knows that he has to assimilate into society. After a terrible incident years ago, he decided to radically change his life by realizing that for him and his family, the United States is an opportunity for a better future. However, Ashoke feels alive when he comes to India, and he tries to inspire a love for this culture in his children, although he understands that they cannot completely belong to it. For this reason, Ashoke lives all his life in attempts to combine American and Indian culture; however, he does not want and cannot be an American, even after years. At the same time, Ashoke learned to accept himself and see his past and present as a whole. When Gogol asks the father if his name reminds him of tragedy, Ashoke answers: “Not at all. You remind me of everything that followed” (p. 62). Ashoke lives with this grateful feeling his whole life by accepting the need for assimilation and keeping his Indian origin.

Gogol, in contrast, refers himself to American culture, since in the USA, he spent all his childhood. Nevertheless, he feels that he does not belong to it entirely. In high school and college, he feels uncomfortable in Indian culture, does not like the absence of personal space, and does not understand Indian music. The author describes the feelings of Gogol before an eight-month trip to Calcutta: “He dreads the thought of eight months without a room of his own, without his records and his stereo, without friends” (p. 41). After his eighteen birthday, Gogol changes his name to Nikhil, dates an American girlfriend Maxine, and does his best to get rid of his Indian roots. However, Nikhil feels and suffers that he cannot fully belong to American society, since outwardly he always remains an Indian, and his beloved family will always remind him of this.

Nevertheless, the trait that made Gogol and Ashoke different erased as Gogol learns to accept himself and his Indian past. Gogol knows that the combination of the American present and Indian roots in him creates his identity. On the last pages of the book, the reader sees that Nikhil rarely uses his pet name, as he had wanted before, but he does not feel satisfied. The author writes: “Yet the thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace. It provides no solace at all” (p. 142). Gogol had to find out the story of his name, survived the death of his father and his divorce. These events lead him to the place where his father started with Overcoat in his hands and desire to discover the world with his new perception.

Moreover, Gogol demonstrates throughout all his life the same features that his father has. Ashoke is a smart and educated person, since his family provided him with education in India, and then he graduated from a university in the USA. He loves and respects his wife, although their parents arranged their marriage, and he always puts his family in the first place. This trait also manifests itself in his love of Indian traditions, rites, culture, and family holidays. Ashoke is always calm and balanced; he does not try to impose his own opinions and tries to understand people whom he loves.

Gogol took from his father the best qualities such as kindness, intelligence, and honor. He is a good student at school and receives an architectural education with high intelligence. Gogol also takes care of his women, respects and loves them, even though his marriage falls apart. He also has a calm character and a kind heart, which helps him to be patient with people around him. And despite the fact that he is more American, Gogol respects Indian traditions for the sake of his family and his past. These traits make the father and his son so close and alike.

Conclusion

Therefore, Ashoke and Gogol are united by their need to combine the characteristics of several cultures and find their place in society, but they are different in their path of their self-identification. Ashoke never wanted to lose his roots, while Gogol learned to accept them only at the end of the novel, although they are always a part of his nature. Thus, the book combines the two sides of one story and makes it clear that only a person can determine his or her identity.

References

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. A Mariner Book Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

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