What were the varying degrees of assimilation and acculturation between the half generation and first generation immigrants in The Namesake?
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Lahiri does a very stellar job in articulating how the generation gap converges with the issue of racial and ethnicity. In some respects, Lahiri shows how each generation experiences a different level of difficulty in understanding the full extent of their “namesake.” For Gogol’s parents, assimilation was almost predictable. They understood that there was going to be a level of challenge in immersing themselves in a culture that was so radically different than their homeland. When they cannot leave the hospital after Gogol’s birth without a name for the baby, devoid of ceremony and absent from community, they understand their challenges of seeking to assimilate into the new culture while maintaining connection to their Bengali ways. For Gogol and the first generation, though, the challenge is a bit more complex. On one hand, he is born as an American, so in Gogol’s mind, he sees no difference between someone like he and Maxine. Yet, there is a difference, something that divides them that Gogol himself cannot fully explain. It is this difference that causes Gogol to withdraw from mainstream American society after his father’s death. It is also what prompts him to engage in a discovery of his own “namesake.” The issues of ethnicity and identity are more easily understandable with the half generation, and presented as more complex and layered in the first generation. This, of course, is ironic because the group that had more challenges seems to have better understood the forces against them, while the group that came to understand themselves as Americans are presented as having to reckon with more than expected.
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