How do Gogol's relationships with American women help readers understand his struggle with the theme of identity?

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The novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is about a Bengali-American couple and their children, particularly their son, attempting to come to grips with the two disparate cultures with which they are intimately involved. It begins with Ashoke Ganguli, an engineering student, and his new wife Ashima, as they leave Calcutta, India, and settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When their first son is born, they give him the intimate family pet name of Gogol and later the public "good" name of Nikil. When he is young, he insists on being acknowledged as Gogol at school, because it links him with his family and heritage. When he gets older, though, he wants to be known as Nikil, or Nick, because it reflects his independence and blending with American culture.

As part of his distancing himself from his Bengali heritage and embracing American culture, he starts a relationship with an American girl named Maxine. His relationship with Maxine is symbolic of his temporary abandonment of his Bengali background and acceptance of the high-class American culture of Maxine's parents. It shows how his struggle for his identity causes him to distance himself from his parents for a time.

However, when Gogol's father dies, he once again learns to appreciate his culture. He shows this profound change by breaking up with the American Maxine and instead marrying a Bengali girl named Moushumi in a traditional ceremony.

We can see, then, that Gogol's relationships both with American Maxine and Bengali-American Moushumi reflect profound changes that he is going through as he seeks to understand his own identity in a background of mixed cultures.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 11, 2020
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