The Namesake Themes

Themes

Various aspects and challenges of immigration and assimilation are explored in The Namesake. Lahiri offers insights into the everyday life of one family, the Gangulis, who come to the United States but live separate from the American culture. Ashima always dresses in traditional clothes. Once her children are in school, she observes American celebrations, such as Christmas, but only reluctantly so. Rather, she puts most of her effort into creating a Bengalese circle of friends and brings them together to share traditional Bengali feasts. Ashima and Ashoke never entertain non-Bengalese friends.

Though the parents wish that their children would retain their Bengali heritage by keeping alive their language and marrying other Bengalis, Gogol and Sonia are reluctant to do so.  They are American, they insist. While living at home, the children are obedient but only marginally follow in their parents' footsteps.

Gogol's rejection of his name, even though the name is Russian, is symbolic of his abandonment of his parents' Indian culture. As much as his parents fight against assimilation, Gogol fights for it. He does not want to follow his father in any way, down to the point of not wanting to go to the same American university that his father attended. He does not want to become a mathematician or engineer as his father and many other Bengalese before him have done.

Ashima and Ashoke take their children back to India several times during their childhood to familiarize them with their Indian roots. The children go, but it only reinforces Gogol's and Sonia's impressions that they are American, not Indian. They do not fit in. They cannot live under the confines of the traditional Bengalese family. They do not relate to their aunts and uncles and cousins. Whereas, Ashima and Ashoke still think that their home is in India, all Sonia and Gogol want to do is to go home.

This conflict pushes Gogol further away from...

(The entire section is 745 words.)