What are the ways in which The Namesake relates to the theme of cultural difference?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Cultural difference is vitally important to understanding the thematic relevance of Lahiri's work.  The fact that cultural difference impacts Ashima and Ashoke is critical.  Cultural difference is the reason why they strive to create the Bengali influence in their world when so much of their world rejects this difference.  They recognize that there is need to preserve their own cultural identity in a world where cultural relevance is not as meaningful.  At the same time, cultural difference impacts Gogol as he runs away from it.  As he grows up, Gogol goes out of his way to not identify himself as culturally different.  An example of this is how he latches himself onto Maxine's parents and absorbs a life where his own sense of being Indian is not relevant.  When he marries Moushumi, there still is the reality of cultural differences playing a role in his actions and him not fully understanding either his own ethnic understanding of culture or his own personal sense of what culture is.  It is here where I think that cultural differences become essential for Gogol.  The ending of the novel is one in which he understands more of his own personal and ethnic conceptions of culture, so much to the point that there really is no longer the pain of cultural differences relevant.  It is for this reason that he is more content with his own sense of self as a result of it.