The Namesake Themes
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake Themes

Various aspects and challenges of immigration and assimilation are explored in The Namesake. Lahiri offers insights into the everyday life of one family, the Gangulis, who come to the United States but live separate from the American culture. Ashima always dresses in traditional clothes. Once her children are in school, she observes American celebrations, such as Christmas, but only reluctantly so. Rather, she puts most of her effort into creating a Bengalese circle of friends and brings them together to share traditional Bengali feasts. Ashima and Ashoke never entertain non-Bengalese friends.

Though the parents wish that their children would retain their Bengali heritage by keeping alive their language and marrying other Bengalis, Gogol and Sonia are reluctant to do so.  They are American, they insist. While living at home, the children are obedient but only marginally follow in their parents' footsteps.

Gogol's rejection of his name, even though the name is Russian, is symbolic of his abandonment of his parents' Indian culture. As much as his parents fight against assimilation, Gogol fights for it. He does not want to follow his father in any way, down to the point of not wanting to go to the same American university that his father attended. He does not want to become a mathematician or engineer as his father and many other Bengalese before him have done.

Ashima and Ashoke take their children back to India several times during their childhood to familiarize them with their Indian roots. The children go, but it only reinforces Gogol's and Sonia's impressions that they are American, not Indian. They do not fit in. They cannot live under the confines of the traditional Bengalese family. They do not relate to their aunts and uncles and cousins. Whereas, Ashima and Ashoke still think that their home is in India, all Sonia and Gogol want to do is to go home.

This conflict pushes Gogol further away from his parents. He gets to a point where he does not even want to return to Massachusetts to visit with them any more. He is reluctant to bring his girlfriends home, because his is slightly ashamed of his parents and knows they will not approve of his non-Bengalese women. Gogol feels especially guilty after his not wanting to go home to send his father off on a trip to Ohio. Ashoke had accepted a temporary assignment that would take him away from his family for eight months. Ashoke dies while still in Ohio.

Even though Gogol has fought his Bengalese/Indian roots, there remains something in Gogol that appreciates his culture. Once he gets over his rebellious stage, he finds comfort in his parents. Unfortunately, it seems to take the death of his father for Gogol to reopen his heart to his family. He is able to see that although his mother is different from him in her beliefs, she is still his mother. Ashima's need...

(The entire section is 745 words.)