The Namesake Questions and Answers
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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What are the themes of "The Namesake" and explain how they are significant to the title.

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Identity: Gogol struggles throughout the novel with his dual identity - American and Bengali. He changes his name in an effort to do away with any negative connotation there is with the origin of his name. Nikolai Gogol was considered an eccentric man and Gogol Ganguli does not want to be associated with the weirdness of Gogol the author. However, he feels this way because he does not know the true origin of his namesake. This theme is relevant to the title because the namesake means different things to different people. Most people are indifferent towards the name Gogol. To Ashoke, it has a great significance because a) it is the name of his favorite Russian author and b) he was clutching a page from Nikolai Gogol's "The Overcoat" when he was pulled from the train wreck. To Gogol, it is not connected to him or his Bengali heritage in any way and therefore he initially rejects it.

Culture Clash: In an attempt to do things the Bengali way, Ashima and Ashoke take their kids to Bengali cultural events, read them Bengali literature and take them on trips to Calcutta. However, the Ganguli children quickly adopt the American way of doing things and their parents, in order to please their children, incorporate these traditions in the Ganguli home. The relevance of this theme to the title is that Gogol's name means nothing in this country but to his Bengali parents it has much significance. Gogol represents his Bengali side whereas Nikhil represents his American side. Hence, two name for one person further conveys this idea of cultures clashing.

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