Explain how The Namesake is in the Bildungsroman genre. Does the genre definition apply to the development of the boy Gogol or to the struggles of the father Ashoke?
A Bildungsroman is essentially a coming-of-age story that focuses on a young person's psychological journey from childhood to adulthood. This type of novel charts the changes a person goes through as he or she matures. The Namesake is a Bildungsroman, as it traces Gogol's development and awareness of his family and his traditions.
As he grows up, Gogol rejects his name and his traditions. He comes to dislike the name Gogol, as he doesn't understand that it came from his father's experience in a train wreck as a young man. Ashoke, Gogol's father, was reading stories by the author Gogol when the wreck occurred, and only by waving a page from the book was he able to attract the attention of workers searching for survivors. Gogol does not understand his father's reasons for naming him, and he changes his name to Nikhil and withdraws from his family. It is only later that Ashoke, Gogol's father, tells him the story behind his name, and, following his father's death, Gogol rejoins his mother and sister and becomes more invested in his family and his Bengali traditions. The book charts Gogol's development and awareness of his identity and explores his psychological reactions to his family and his maturation. Therefore, the definition applies to the development of Gogol, not the struggles of his father.
The genre of Bildungsroman is a German genre of eighteenth and nineteenth century novel that traces the psychological development of a young man en-route to maturity and his place in society. In general terms, there is debate among critics as to whether British, French and American novels properly fall under the Bildungsroman genre label because of nationalistic changes to the established form, initiated by Karl Morgenstern and popularized by Wilhelm Dilthey.
That discussion aside, The Namesake falls under Bildungsroman genre guidelines in that the novel describes the life of the son of Ashoke and Ashima, named Gogol, as he travels from infancy to maturity. Lahiri provides a psychological study of Gogol's anger at being an oddity and a misfit in his homeland of Massachusetts, his rejection of his father's traditions, his embrace of American culture, his subsequent confusion, disappointments and self-reconciliation.
The novel ends with Gogol's growing realization of his place in society. Though not the story of a German young man, and though not written by a German author, The Namesake fits the definition of Bildungsroman.