In most cases our backgrounds characterize us, for instance, where we grew up, our beliefs as well as traditions, the forms of education we acquire and the friends we make. It only becomes a problem when your background clash and as a result we are left torn between the established norms and the traditions that are long-standing. Complications can also come about when part of the personality we are, for instance a name, makes us end up standing in a wrong way. Lahiri, in his book which is entitled, The Namesake, tries to follow the family of Bengali within two different generations and end up introduces Ashoke, a young professor at MIT together with Ashima who was to be his new bride from the region of Calcutta in India. Together with their son Gogol, the author explores the influence of their background and their immediate environment.
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According to the traditions of the Indian people, every baby has to be provided with a good name, a name that would eventually become visible on the faces of envelopes, telephone directories, diplomas as well as all other public places. In addition to a good name, there is also a pet name which is not officially recorded. It is only articulated and memorized. There is a deep meaning that is attached to a child’s good name (Lahiri 2004). The pet name on its part has no meaning. It is deliberately silly, full of irony and is also onomatopoetic.
The couple waits for a letter to be delivered from Ashima’s grandmother who provided with the responsibility of naming all her grandchildren. Ashima and Ashoke both agree that the grandmother names their son too. Unluckily, the letter delays and fails to arrive before they are required to take their son home from the hospital. Because of this they are told that incase they failed to provide a name for their son, the birth certificate would then read “Baby boy Ganguli.”
After too much anxiety engulfing them, an employee in the hospital comes up with the idea of naming the child after someone who was greatly admired by any of the two parents. This makes Ashoke to recall a moment, some incident that took place some seven years back when he managed to survive a train derailment. He remembers a favorite book he had been reading during the time the crash took place. It was a compilation of short stories which were written by a writer known as Nikolai Gogol. Ashoke therefore resolves to call his son Gogol. The name was only meant to sustain them until the time the grandmother came up with another name. Because they never received the envelope they continued using the name (Gogol) until the boy was ready t start going to school. The two parents then come with the idea of choosing another good name for him. They ended up with ‘Nikhil’. This was a derivative name from the first name of the author, meaning “one who encompasses,” in Bengali. Gogol is not pleased at all with the new name (Lahiri, 2004).
Gogol and the sister are born and raised in U.S but they are filled with the frustration with the fact that they are completely different from most of the kids they come across. Most of these kids mock their names, other end up vandalizing their mail box using disparaging terms. Still others simply look at them in a funny way. An instance that makes Gogol fully humiliated because of his name is when his high school class reads “An Overcoat”. Googol mainly hates a comparison that is made to his name sake (Nikolai Gogol). He undergoes a complete embarrassment.
The family had numerous missed chances to be in position to share crucial moments in their lives. The embarrassment that Gogol had because of the name that the father gave him made him resolve into changing his name into one that was not acceptable among the Indian community. This makes him regret later on when he realizes the reason as to why he was given the name that belonged to a Russian writer. His father never revealed it to him when he was young and therefore when he tried changing it, it was too late.
The kind of relationship that exists within the extended Bengali community in the circles of the American Universities is well defined. The level of security of the extended family coupled with the numerous returns to Calcutta indicates the loneliness that exists among the lives of the immigrants. The situation of the mother is particularly poignant due to the fact that she subsumes her desires with the main aim of upholding the cultural bonds which are expected of her (Lahiri 2004).
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First of all she accepts the arranged marriage then eventually lives in a community that is completely different hers in a land that is strange. She then attempts to provide the children with a sense of the Indian culture. As expected, the results do not bare fruits because they seem to be more Americans than Indian.
Nevertheless, the clash of the culture is not severe compared to various communities in England. Ashima and Ashoke are remarkably accepting the relationship that exists with the Americans. In spite of the arrangement of marriages, they are a little bit pragmatic at the result of the mismatch of Gogol together with the Indian wife. A sense of alienation which is usually common among the immigrant children is present in Gogol. The immigrant children are hassled in schools and they end up keeping their down if only to fit in the groups.
New country, an American Identity
The struggles that exists among the immigrants in trying to affirm a western Identity and to uphold the cultivated native tradition is clearly portrayed. The new immigrants try labeling themselves as perpetual foreigners because they are extremely embedded with customs of their homeland. Even though the western lifestyle has the ability to challenge the loyalty to the cultural practices, Ashoke together Ashima are highly dedicated towards teaching their children the essentiality of commemorating the customs of Bengali but they are also careful not to deny them the joys the western cultures, for instance Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.
It worth stating that Lahiri brings about great empathy to Gogol. He finds himself in the path of the first generation full of conflicting loyalties, twisted love affairs together with comic detours. With high insights, the author reveals not just the defining nature of name giving together with the expectations which are highly valued upon us by the parents but also the ways through we slowly, in some cases painfully, we are able to explain ourselves. The incident of Gogol is highly practical and touching. And the experience the boy goes through reflects that of immigrants of the second generation across all the ethnicities. By rejecting the heritage of Bengali, this does not imply that it all about shame but about desiring to forge his own for form of identity together with which his cultural legacy denies him of that right (Lahiri, 2004).
Lahiri, J. (2004). The Namesake. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Lahiri explores the struggles of the first generation immigrants when trying to affirm a western identity together with an attempt to maintain the native traditions. He also shows how the immigrants always try to brand themselves as foreigners due to the fact that they are strongly rooted in the traditions of their homeland. The author further illustrates how the two couples, Ashima and Ashoke are highly devoted bringing up their children according to the tradition and at the same time providing for the joys associated with the western culture.