Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


In the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (pictured above), the relationships of the characters to their countries are different in many ways. Gogol who was born in America, was raised despite his parents attempt to keep him Bengali; as an American.  His mother, despite moving to America with her husband, never fully assimilates into the American culture until the end of the novel. This is because she grew up in Calcutta. She grew up Bengali. It was what she has always known, and even her husband follows the rules and the traditions even though they are now in America. Although Ashima eventually adapted to the culture as best as she could, she did not want to lose her identity as Bengali because she was proud of it. This is something Gogol never was.  She had practiced her Bengalian beliefs and traditions her entire life, whereas Gogol only practiced them when he was at home with his family. When a child is growing up, it is monkey see monkey do so-to-speak. In Gogol’s case, he saw more American traditions and customs than he saw of Bengalian. Therefore, it is only natural that he would want to do what his friends are doing and live the way that they lived. He did not want to be set apart from the other children; he wanted to be what is considered “normal” in America.  Gogol, aside from flying to Calcutta whenever a relative passed away, never had true immersion in the Bengali culture. He never fully understood what it was like to be completely Bengali. Though his parents tried to raise him with the traditions and values that they grew up with, Gogol was an American from the day he was born. It is easy to see why Gogol and his mother misunderstood each other most of the time. Ashima wanted Gogol to be like his father, to make a lot of money and to raise a good Bengali family. However, Gogol wanted none of those things because he did not grow up believing that those things were necessary and valuable.  Although Ashima tried to understand the ways of her son, it is not what was engrained in her soul. She was Bengali; her husband had always taken care of everything for her. She did not believe that women should be independent because she was never given that option. She was immersed in and grew up in a culture that had completely different views from those of America. Aside from his parents, Gogol had no true connection to the Bengali. His connection was to America from the very moment his parents chose to move there. If they had wanted their son to be Bengali, they should have stayed in Calcutta and not exposed him to the culture of American solely because they are so different from one another. In the end, Ashima does assimilate into the American culture because she has to. She no longer has anyone that will keep the Bengali traditions alive with her. She has made American friends, has an American job, has American children, and lives in America. She has to let go of the past and move on into a new world and culture herself in the ways of American women. Gogol on the other hand, as I’ve stated before, was American from the start.

Upon further research into the novel, I stumbled upon an interview with Lahiri herself. Here, she talks candidly about growing up as the child of immigrants, and how she, like the main characters in the novel, questions her alliegence to both America, and India. Never really belonging to one or the other, but having little to no knowledge of her Indian heritage. http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-jhumpainterview.htm 
I think that it is interesting that she often writes from the male perspective, in her interview she expresses how it was based out of curiosity since she had no brothers. I would have honestly never guessed that she wasn't a male while I was reading the book. Another similarity that the author shares with her character is that like Gogol, her pet name inadvertedly became her good name. It seems that Lahiri prefers to write from experience, which is a quality I've always admired in an author because it gives their stories more credibility.

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