Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake begins with a Bengali couple, Ashima and Ashoke who have recently immigrated to the United States so Ashoke can continue his engineering studies at MIT. The story begins at the hospital, where Ashima has just gone into labor for their first born son. As she prepares to give birth, she realizes how isolated she has become, forced to deliver her baby alone, without the support of her family in Calcutta, India. This isolation she feels only emphasizes the many cultural differences she must overcome. Once she delivers her healthy baby boy, the couple soon realizes they cannot leave the hospital without first giving a legal name to their child. A letter from Ashima’s grandmother was supposed to come with a name, but has been lost in the mail. They decide on the temporary name of “Gogol” for their child, Gogol being the last name of Ashoke’s favorite Russian author, whose work he accredits to saving his life. The letter with the real name never comes and Ashima’s grandmother dies soon after. It is customary in India for children to be given a “good” name to be used in public and a nickname to be used only by those very close to the family, but the name Gogol soon sticks and that becomes the child’s single name. The book brings us through the childhood, adolescence, teenage years, and young adulthood of Gogol. We see the struggles of a Bengali boy growing up amidst the American customs and Bengali customs, but never truly feeling as if he belongs to the United States or India. This personal struggle with his cultural identity begins to spread to Gogol’s namesake in his adolescence. Gogol begins to realize that he has never met another Gogol, he begins to feel hatred towards his parents for giving him such an obscure name and starts to feel self conscious every time his name is mentioned. In his senior year in high school, Gogol begins to go by the name Nikhil. He introduces himself as Nikhil to a girl at a college party and begins to realize that college comes with a chance to completely reinvent himself. This change in name and Gogol's decision to go to Yale, rather than following in his father’s footsteps to attend MIT, sets up the barriers between Gogol and his family. The distance, both geographically and emotionally, between Gogol and his parents continues to increase. He wants to be American, not Bengali. He goes home less frequently, dates American girls, and becomes angry when anyone calls him Gogol. During his college years, he smokes cigarettes and marijuana, goes to many parties, and loses his virginity to a girl he cannot remember. The book goes on to capture the on-going stages of Gogol’s identity and follows his three most serious relationships from beginning to sour end.

Discussion Questions:

How much significance do you feel a name holds over personality? Do you believe that Gogol’s life would have been different if he had started out with a more traditional name?

In The Namesake, it is as if Gogol transforms into an entirely different person when he is using the name Nikhil. Everyone makes mild personality adjustments depending upon the crowd they are around, but do you believe that a person can actually have alternate identities?

(If you are aware of one) What is your namesake? Do you take pride in your parent’s decision to name you what they did, or would you change your name if you had the chance?


11 comments:

allie s 11-12 said...

Names have a significance in someones life. It might not be drastic, but it can happen. It can make a persons self esteem worse and make them feel like poeple are laughing at you because of your name. But you as a person can become better than your name and use it to your advantage. But a name shouldn't control your attitude and it shouldn't control the way you act.

Sydney C.13-14 said...

Allie, I agree with your statement that we can become better than our names and use our names to our advantage. We can express ourselves through our given names and truly bring them to life in the way we want to. And if a person finds their name truly awful, Finding humor in it can go a long way. Living life self conscious is no way to live. Being able to laugh about yourself, maybe even using an obscure name as a conversation starter, will go a long way.

Hayley D 11/12 said...

1. I agree, I think that a person's name is significant but only up to a point. A name serves as a form of identification, it doesn't determine who you are as a person. I think that Gogol's life would have been easier if he had a more traditional American name, but I don't think that it would have made that much of a difference. His name was only a small part of what was causing his lack in identity. It seems as though his parents weren't helpful in attempting to help him adjust to life in America. It wasn't just his name, his lack of cultural identity as a whole caused him to feel isolated and revolt.

Brad S 11-12 said...

2. Well, there is schizophrenia. Other than mental illnesses, i do not think that changing your name would have any affect on you whatsoever. If you tell yourself it makes you somebody else, then in your mind it does. I guess it is all in your definition of change. It might mean something important to someone with schizophrenia, but to somebody without mental illnesses, it might mean nothing at all.

Kaitlyn H 11-12 said...

1. I don't think that a different name would have changed his life in America. A name doesn't define a person.
2. Yes, I think that people can have alternate identities. People are fake all the time and pretend to be someone they're not.

Alexander C. [13-14] said...

Building off of question number 2....


I feel people who attempt to have multiple personalties fail because they can never focus on one person at a time. It would be difficult for one to hone in on one of their personality traits because they are so detailed and vivid that they can be mixed up some times. People need to focus on one personality; themselves and they will find true happiness.

Sydney C.13-14 said...

It seems that some people think a name does play a role in defining a person while others feel that a name has no real significance in who a person is. I personally feel that this is dependent on the situation. The significance of a name depends on the feelings(or lack of feelings) the person with that name holds for the name.

I definitely agree that people can try to e two faced depending on who they around. This mismatched confusion in identity can only hurt a person in the end. Confidence in ones single self image is important.How much a name plays into this self image is obviously arguable.

Dana D 11-12 said...

I don't think that a name defines who you are as a person. I know that my parents named me after my dad's friend. When I was little
I suppose it upset me that I had been named after a guy. But a name is a name and I have no desire to change it.

Allie H 11-12 said...

Answering the third question, I believe my namesake is my first name. I take a lot of pride in what my parent's decided to name me because I was named after my father. My father and my grandfather's names were Allan, and my name is Allie. They did not plan on naming me Allie just to name me after my father, but it just kind of fit in to the tradition. I would not change my name if I had the chance because I love the name I was given, along with my last name.

Kara K. 5/6 said...

Names have some significance over personality but not a ton. Some people in society get made fun of because of their name which creates tension and the person may feel bullied. People that have forgien names that noone can understand at times are made fun of for how their names are seen to be pronounced. It all depends on whether the person has a name that is easily to be used to pick on someone or not. On the other hand, some people may be liked even more for their name.

Mrs. Sherwood said...

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