The Namesake Summary
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake Summary

The Namesake is a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri in which young Gogol struggles to reconcile his beliefs with those of his traditional, Bengalese parents. 

  • Ashoke, an engineering student at MIT, consents to an arranged marriage with Ashumi. He names their son Gogol after the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogol hates his name and disavows his Bengalese heritage for most of his adolescence.

  • After Ashoke dies, Gogol takes an interest in his heritage. He marries Moushumi, a Bengalese woman, but they ultimately divorce after Moushumi has an affair.

  • After the divorce, Gogol takes comfort in his father's memory and finally accepts his name.

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Introduction

The Ganguli family in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake has a problem. The mother and father are traditional Bengalese from Calcutta, and they are not particularly interested in assimilating into the United States, their adopted home. Gogol, their son, however, was born in the United States and is somewhat embarrassed by his parents Bengalese practices. Gogol is also uncomfortable with his name. It is neither a Bengalese nor an American name. No one he knows has a name like his. In school, kids make fun of it. But the conflict goes deeper than that.

Gogol's father tries to explain why he gave that name to his first-born child, but Gogol could not care less. Gogol, in his attempts to get out from under the Bengali culture, even tries to completely disassociate himself from his family. But when his father dies, Gogol is surprised by how much he misses him. Slowly he turns back to his mother and sister. His new closeness makes Gogol's American girlfriend question why he is acting so differently. The strain breaks down their relationship.

Later, when Gogol's mother suggests that Gogol call the Bengalese daughter of her friend, Gogol resists, for a little while. Then he gives in, somewhat curious about dating a Bengalese woman.

As Gogol slowly realizes the importance of his family and his culture, he falls in love with Moushumi, the Bengalese woman. The story appears to have finally come to a happy conclusion. Gogol and Moushumi are married. But this is not a romantic happily-ever-after tale. Moushumi, who was a quiet and shy young teen, has tasted freedom in her twenties, a freedom from her parents and their strict Bengali ways. Now Moushumi feels confined in her marriage, no matter how well Gogol treats her. She turns away from him in the only way she knows how: she has an affair.

The Namesake takes readers behind the closed doors of people who have immigrated to the United States to find a better life and the challenges they unexpectedly discover in the process.

Extended Summary

As The Namesake opens, Ashima Ganguli is a young bride who is about to deliver her first child in a hospital in Massachusetts. Her husband, Ashoke, is an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ashoke had traveled back to Calcutta to find a wife. Ashima, who comes from a traditional Bengali/Indian family, had little choice in the matter. As she prepares to give birth, she realizes how isolated she has become. If she were still in Calcutta, she would have her baby at home, surrounded by all the women in her family who would administer all the proper Bengali ceremonies and would tell her what to expect. In the United States, Ashima struggles through language and cultural barriers as well as her own fears as she delivers her first child.

The baby boy is healthy and the new parents are prepared to take their son home. But Ashima and Ashoke are stunned to learn that they cannot leave the hospital before they give their son a legal name. The traditional naming process in their families is to have an elder give the new baby a name. They have chosen Ashima's grandmother for this honor. The grandmother writes down the name on a piece of paper and mails it to them. But the letter never arrives and soon after, the grandmother dies. In the meantime, Ashoke suggests the name of Gogol. He chooses this name for two reasons. First,...

(The entire section is 1,362 words.)