Who is the protagonist in The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri?

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Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake fits the description of a bildungsroman, which is a work of literature that tells the story of a protagonist's formative years. The protagonist of The Namesake is Gogol, who eventually changes his name to Nikhil as a way of displaying his own independence from his parents.

The novel begins, as many bildungsromans do, with the story of Gogol's birth. The reader gets to know his parents and other people in Gogol's life while the events in the plotline unfold, focusing on the childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood experiences of Gogol. These descriptions of Gogol's parents and their families provide the reader with a thorough backdrop of cultural information; the reader understands through these details the life into which Gogol emerges on the day he is born. Because the reader has an intimate understanding of Gogol before Gogol himself even appears, the reader feels invested in the development of the hero of the novel. As protagonist, Gogol faces many conflicts and complications throughout the novel that make his life rich and interesting.

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Gogul Ganguli is the protagonist in The Namesake.

The entire narrative of The Namesake revolves around Gogul's experiences. Gogul's complex and agonizing search for identity is the basis for the novel. He experiences this struggle emotionally and culturally. We understand the full implications behind Gogol's profound realizations about his own existence, the love he holds for other people, and how he fares in balancing his own needs with his need for others' acceptance. No other character experiences these realities as forcefully as Gogol does. From being so unsettled in the world to finding his place in it, Gogol is the means through which the novel's message emerges.  

Another reason why Gogol is the protagonist is because Lahiri uses him to convey her own experiences. For example, Lahiri struggled with her own name in a way that mirrors Gogol's: "I always felt so embarrassed by my name. . . You feel like you're causing someone pain just by being who you are." Gogol learns a person's identity encompasses both their past and future and the need to accept one's own namesake. Gogol is the vehicle through which Lahiri communicates thematic and personal truths in The Namesake.

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