National Identity in “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri
In different cultures, there are many beliefs connected with names. It is believed that a name given to a newborn child, to a large extent, predetermines all his future life. At the same time, an attitude towards a name given to a person is different in various countries. In Western countries, people do not pay much attention to this factor, while in Asian and African countries, there exist beliefs according to which a name is considered as something sacred. Sometimes it is even prohibited to pronounce a true name aloud, and in such a case, a namesake is used instead.
Apart from problems of the cultural and generation gap, which are revealed in Jhumpa Lahiris novel, there is also a problem of national identity. This novel is not only a story about a young American man with Bengali origin who is suffering from his extraordinary name. The Namesake arises a serious philosophical problem. Is it a doom that predetermines a person’s life? Our maybe, every man is the architect of his own future.
A young family of Indian emigrants is waiting for a birth of a child. They have a strong and healthy baby, but at this moment, there arises a problem with the name for their son. Being Bengalis, they strictly keep traditions of their culture, in accordance with which a name for a newborn baby is chosen by the most honorable member of a family. The young parents do not pay much attention to the fact that their grandmother lives at the other end of the world, and a letter from her will not be delivered soon. It is quite natural for their culture that in a search for an appropriate name for a child, it may be given to him at the age of six or even later.
Nevertheless, in America, it is impossible to release a woman from a maternity hospital without performing all the formalities. For these formalities, a name of a child is necessary. In an unthinking moment Ashoke, who is the father of the baby, names his son Gogol as a tribute to his favorite Russian writer. In spite of the tradition to give Bengali children two names, the name Gogol given against the ancient custom will stay with this baby for all his life.
From the very beginning, Gogol is satisfied with his name. He likes its originality and even its pronunciation. When his parents give him another official name Nikhil, inspired by its similarity with the Russian writers first name Nikolai, Gogol does not want to use it. He refuses to be Nikhil in a kindergarten.
But in a course of time, in a process of Gogols growing up this name becomes irritating for him. Despite all efforts of their parents, Gogol and his sister Sonia become typical American teenagers. The rare visits of the Ganguli family to the motherland are boring for the children. Now they are the typical representatives of the American culture, and even employees in supermarkets in order to avoid language difficulties talk to the children rather than to their parents.
Gogol is ashamed of his name. He wants his name to sound in American way. “It dismays him that his parents chose the weirdest namesake. Leo or Anton, he could have lived with. Alexander shortened to Alex, he would have greatly preferred. But Gogol sounds ludicrous to his ears, lacking dignity or gravity” (Lahiri 40). Gogol cannot imagine how with such a ridiculous name it is possible to get acquainted with a girl.
He knows about his fathers passion for masterpieces of Russian literature, but Gogol has never read the novels of his namesake. He has never concerned himself with the origin of his name.
The problem of the relations between the parents and their children is also revealed in the novel. On his sons birthday in a way of a present Ashoke gives him a book of Gogols stories. There has been a railway accident in Ashokes life in which he has survived by a miracle. Ashoke thinks that it has been a Gogols book that has saved his life. However, for a long time he does not dare to tell his son the history of his name.
Gogol thinks that his life is influenced by the name that he hates. As a result, he legally changes his name to Nikhil in a court.
At the end of the novel, being a mature person and a respectable architect, Gogol begins to realize why his name was so important for his father. By refusing from the name given him by his parents, Gogol refuses from his culture.
After the death of his father and the divorce with his wife, Gogol decides to read the book that his father has presented him. I think this ending of the novel is very symbolic. The main idea is that all cultures of the world are worth respecting. Nevertheless, every person should always remember his origin, his traditions and his cultural heritage. Reading this book Gogol not only pays homage to his dead father, he also realizes his national identity.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.