Critically discuss Lahiri's literary devices and authorial style in Chapter 5 of The Namesake.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A sampling of Lahiri's authorial style and use of literary devices can be gotten from the beginning of Chapter 5 of The Namesake. Lahiri's authorial style employs a bold direct tone that is obvious from the beginning of the chapter in the direct statements and specific vocabulary of the first sentence: "Plenty of people changed their names: actors, writers, revolutionaries, transvestites." He also employs tense to reinforce his points in a subtle way. For instance, he uses past tense to underscore acts of free volition ("People changed"; "slaves renamed") while using the past tense in perfective aspect (had + -ed verb) for actions enforced upon others, as in "immigrants had their names changed at Ellis Island" (had changed is interrupted by the noun phrase their names).

Digression helps Lahiri elaborate upon both his story and his characters, such as for Gogol Ganuli when Lahiri digresses from the central story line to tell a separate brief, loosely related though significant story about the character's namesake, the Russian author Nikolai Gogol-Yanovsky, or just Gogol. In addition, Lahiri nestles important details  in blankets of preliminary minutia as when he writes:

Gogol Ganguli does the same. He rides the commuter line ... The area is somewhat familiar... televisions ... vacuum cleaners... Museum of Science ... But he had never been ... on his own, and in spite of the directions he's written on a sheet of paper he gets briefly lost on his way to the Middlesex Probate and Family Court.

Some literary devices Lahiri uses here relate to setting, character description, comparisons, and imagery, and he uses all in such as way as though to recreate an actual experience for the reader. His descriptions of setting and characters are both detailed and full of minutia. This, as a point of comparison, is the exact opposite of Jane Austen's descriptive approach! As an example of the minutia of setting, he writes that Gogol "rides the commuter rail to Boston, switching to the Green Line at North Station, getting out at Lechmere." As an example of the same for character description, he writes: "He wears a blue oxford shirt, khakis, [and]. ... Knotted around his neck ... yellow stripes on the diagonal."

Lahiri's use of metaphor and simile are sparse, while his use of imagery is prolific. These are each chosen to enhance his aim of recreating the feeling and experience of an actual event. The beginning of Chapter 5 has no metaphor and just one loose simile: Gogol "steps through a metal detector, as if he were at an airport." The comparison, through simile, to the an airport is meant to help focus in on Gogol's experience by using a more widely know experience. As for imagery, Lahiri is liberal with sensory imagery involving visual, as in the descriptions (e.g., "yellow stripes on the diagonal") and tactile ("soothed by the chill of the air-conditioner"), yet there is a profound absence of sound (auditory) imagery. The commuter train makes no sound; it is strangely silent; the security scan station in the marble Court House has no sound; there is an eerie absence of voices and objects being put down and picked up. Lahiri's choices in imagery focus the aspects of Gogol's experience he wishes to relay to the reader.

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