The Namesake Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis: 1971
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis: 1971

The Gangulis have moved to the suburbs of Boston. Ashoke has earned his doctorate in engineering and was offered a job as an assistant professor of engineering in a college outside of Boston. He is now Professor Ganguli and is quietly proud of himself. He notes with special satisfaction that all his students are Americans; he is respected as an authority even among White Americans. Quietly, he is impressed with his achievements. He almost died in Calcutta, he often reminds himself. He got a second lease on life, left India to study in the United States, and here he is on the threshold of his professional career. He has reasons to be pleased.

However, moving every few years is becoming too much for Ashima. She is a city girl, having been born and brought up in Calcutta and then “having lived in Boston” (Cambridge, actually). She finds life in this university town a bit too quiet and lonely, especially when Ashoke is at the university. Ashima cooks and cleans house and goes shopping with little Gogol. When he is four, he starts going to a preschool for children of the faculty. Ashima goes to her son’s school and watches him learn the letters of the alphabet and count.

When Gogol is five, Ashima gives birth to a baby girl whom they name Sonali, the golden one. Her name eventually will be muted to Sonia, a name easily recognizable in three continents: Europe, North America, and Asia. Gogol begins going to school. His father wants to name him Nikhil, which means “the all encompassing,” but Gogol will have none of it. He does not know or respond to the name. So when his father takes him to school the first day the school principal sides with Gogol and he gets to keep his name.

Gogol is fourteen now. He is almost as tall as his father; he is gaunt and has a clear hint of a moustache. His eyes are dark and piercing. Like his mother, he has long, tapering fingers; his face is always slightly pensive. Gogol’s fourteenth birthday party is like any other birthday party of his—an all-Bengali affair attended by Ashoke and Ashima’s friends who are Bengalis. The ladies come in dazzling saris and jewelry while the men dressed a lot more casually in T-shirts and pants. The men sit on the carpeted floor and play cards as they stormily discuss Reaganomics. The women congregate in another room to discuss cooking, clothing, and their children. Only Gogol is left with nothing to do. He realizes that he is too old for the other children who have come to the party with their parents and too young to discuss politics and economics with his father’s friends. For Ashima these birthdays mean cooking sprees: endless samosas and curries; chops made of ground meat and sweets made with milk and ricotta cheese. She started cooking for the party three days in advance.

These days Gogol spends most of his time sulking, pensive because of the confusion he feels over his name. He wonders why his father named him so weirdly after a Russian author. His friends laugh at his name, which is neither Indian nor American. Other Indians in his school have names that can easily be muted to American names like Jay for Jaydev. Even his own formal name, Nikhil, could have been shortened to Nick had he not objected to it as a five year old. Everywhere he goes, people immediately question his name: “What? What does it mean, Gogol, where does it come from?” He has to explain too much. Other boys his age have been on occasional dates with girls but Gogol has not bothered to ask a girl out. He cannot imagine calling a girl and announcing that his name is Gogol. So he sulks, mostly by himself, unable to find any sympathy in his parents or in school. For a young adolescent boy growing up Indian American, he is going through an acute identity crisis, but hardly anybody seems aware of it.

The crisis with his name becomes intolerable when, shortly after his fourteenth birthday, his father enters his room while he is busy gyrating to the Beatles’ White Album . Gogol...

(The entire section is 1,590 words.)