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The Namesake

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Lucy Serenska

on 5 June 2014

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Transcript of The Namesake

The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri
Plot Summary
Ashoke was in an accident in his youth
Ashoke and Ashima have an arranged marriage in Calcutta, after which they move to the US
Ashima has Gogol--didn't prepare "good name"
Born in Cambridge, but Ashima hates it and they move to Pemberton Road
Ashoke wants Gogol's school to use his good name Nikhil, but they insist on calling him Gogol
Ashima has Sonali, whose pet name is Sonia
The children grow up feeling American rather than Bengali
Gogol begins to hate his unique name
The Gangulis return to India for eight months during Gogol’s junior year, and Gogol and Sonia are incredibly uncomfortable there
Writing Style
Puritanism - Gangulis represent foreigners = Puritans. Portray the Puritan ideals:
Industriousness - Ashoke working at MIT
Temperance - preventing self from becoming completely American Ashima seeks to keep Indian culture.
Romanticism – One “I” of Romanticism is Individualism. Gogol searching to be an individual and have his own identity.
Realism - Local dialect. Bengali culture and language. " To predict his future path in life Gogol is offered a plate holding a clump of cold Cambridge soil...a ballpoint pen, and a dollar bill, to see if he will be a landowner, scholar, or businessman" (40).
Modernism - Damaged views of “New Eden.” Ashima does not view America as a utopia. She would rather go back to India and raise her children there and be with her family.
Themes & Symbols
Female contemporary author
Contemporary literature was one of the first times when female literature was acknowledged and read just as much as male literature
Portrays various examples of contemporary literature:
More character driven than plot driven (Realism). The novel focuses on Gogol's struggle to find an identity
Self-conciousness: Gogol "takes himself apart" over the concept of his name.......Also changes his name before going to college to Nikhil. Doesn't feel right.
Cultural Diversity: Gogol compares Maxine's American parents to his Bengali parents....Maxine's "environment" is much more liberal based while Gogol's is centered around the idea of maintaining a culture.
Author Biography-Jhumpa Lahiri
born in London
raised in Rhode Island.
B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989. Lahiri then received multiple degrees from Boston University.
Taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design.
2001- married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a Guatemalan-Greek-American journalist.
Lives in Rome, Italy with her husband and their two children, Octavio and Noor.
The Namesake
Similarities with Gogol
Parents were Bengali Indian immigrants. Lahiri considers herself an American.
When she began kindergarten in Kingston, Lahiri's teacher decided to call her by her pet name, Jhumpa, because it was easier to pronounce than her "good name".
Lahiri's motheir wanted her children to grow up knowing their Bengali heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta.
Her parents isolated her from mainstream American culture.
Growing up, Lahiri's loyalty to her parents conflicted with her desire to fit in.
Gogol-New Yorker

Symbolize how Gogol fits into society
"Gogol has nothing to say to these people. He doesn't care about their dissertation topics, or their dietary restrictions, or the color of their walls" (237).

Symbolize identity
Good Names vs Pet Names
"Tend to represent dignified and enlightened qualities" (26).
"Frequently meaningless, silly, ironic..." (26).
Ashima = she who is limitless
Sonali = she who is golden
Nikhil = he who encompasses all
Ashoke = he who ascends grief
To Ashoke = fresh start and inspiration
"Instead of thanking God he thanks Gogol, the Russian writer who saved his life" (21).
To Gogol = isolation + disconnect
"He hates... that it has nothing to do with who he is,that it is neither Indian nor American but of all things Russian" (76).

Major changes for Ganguli family
Transported literally and figuratively from one part of life to another
"Somehow, this small miracle causes Ashima to feel connected to Cambridge in a way she has not previously thought possible..." (43).
Measure of assimilation
"...the rice in Judy's canister is brown. To be polite, Ashima takes a cup, but downstairs she throws it away" (34)
Symbol of Family
"When [the food] arrives, it too disappoints her" (251)

Gogol Ganguli
Main protagonist
Feels uncertain, confused, conflicted
Identity crisis

Demonstrates the struggles of a person from multiple cultures
evolves to try to find his place
"He can't help but recall a novel... It had been an unhappy love story. If only his own life were so simple" (245).
delicate balance
"There was nothing, apart from his family, to draw him home, to make this train journey, again and again" (282).
Ashima Ganguli
Mother of Gogol
Studied English before marrying and moving to America
Initially homesick but becomes limitless

Reconcile way of living with a new one
Ashima is the glue that holds the family together
"They have come to rely on [Ashima]... to collect them together, to organize the holiday, to convert it
Ashoke Ganguli
Gogol's Father and Ashima's husband
Near death experience
Love of Russian authors, particularly Nikolai Gogol
Works as a professor at MIT
Gentle and supportive, brave and strong

Catalyst for many events
move to America
Gogol's name
"And suddenly the sound of [Gogol's] pet name, uttered by his father as he has been accustomed to hearing it all his life, means something completely new, bound up with a catastrophe he has unwittingly embodied for years" (124).
his death
"'Now I know why he went to Cleveland... He was teaching me how to live alone'" (183).
Maxine Ratliff
An American girlfriend of Gogol
Lives with her parents
very open and accepting

Opens Gogol's eyes to some less stereotyped American culture
Serves to juxtapose the different lifestyles of the Gangulis and the Ratcliffs
"The idea of returning year after year to a single place appeals to Gogol deeply. Yet he cannot picture his family occupying a house like this..." (155).
Moushumi Mazumdar
Gogol's wife
Grew up with Gogol but didn't connect as children
Also feels the need to reinvent herself
Never truly connects with Gogol
doesn't take his name
is unfaithful to him
they split ways

The resignation of Gogol to Indian culture
"She can't help but associate him, at times, with a sense of resignation, with the very life she has resisted, has struggled so mightily to leave behind" (250).
Shows that even a "sure-thing" can be unstable
"...they have not considered it their duty to stay married, as the Bengalis of Ashoke and Ashima's generation do" (276).
namesake- a person or thing that has the same name as another

Trying to find themselves within a new culture
Multiple influences
Struggling with balance
"Now that he's Nikhil its easier to ignore his parents, to tune out their pleas and concerns" (105).
Shapes who you are
Return to it for better or worse
"In so many ways, his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one accident begetting another... all these events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is" (287).
Reluctance to move on
Moushumi = Paris
Ashima = India
Fond memories of past
"'Will you remember this day Gogol?'... 'How long do I have to remember it?'... 'Always... Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go'" (187).
Similar to Gatsby
Wanting of a home + belonging
"For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is sort of a lifelong pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden" (49).
Never comfortable
Feeling alone and isolated
"[Ashima] has never known of a person entering the world so alone, so deprived" (25).
Gogol changes his name to Nikhil and is eventually more comfortable
At Yale Nikhil meets Ruth--date for a year before breaking up-- parents don’t like the break from tradition
Ashoke tells Gogol his namesake--how the book saved him so many years ago
Gogol moves to NYC, works as an architect, begins dating a woman named Maxine
Ashoke suffers heart attack and dies; Gogol returns home to Ashima and Sonia, splitting him and Max apart
Gogol has a brief relationship with a married woman, but feels no emotional connection

Culture Gap
Balance cultures
"This tradition doesn't exist for Bengalis... this sign of respect in America and Europe... would be ridiculed in India" (28).
"The restrictions [on touching] amuse her; she sees them as a single afternoon's challenge, an anomaly never to be repeated. She does not associate him with his parents' habits..." (146).
He begins to see a family friend, a Bengali woman named Moushumi; they marry within a year
Their marriage is happy at first but soon becomes stagnant and unfulfilling, and Moushumi begins an affair with an old flame named Dimitri
Moushumi accidentally mentions Dimitri, revevaling affair, and the two split up
At Ashima's last party, Gogol finally reads the book his father cherished
Works Cited
Knopf, Alfred A. "Jhumpa Lahiri." Jhumpa Lahiri. Random House, 2008. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.randomhouse.com/kvpa/jhumpalahiri/>.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. "Gogol." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 16 June 2003. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/06/16/030616fi_fiction_lahiri>.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.
The Namesake. Dir. Mira Nair. Perf. Kal Penn, Tabu, Irrfan Khan. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2006. Web. 3 June 2014.
"Jhumpa Lahiri." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 04 June 2014. <http://www.biography.com/people/jhumpa-lahiri-21465687#awesm=~oGgVI6ABW2O1CM>.
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