The problem of the generation gap has always existed in society. Mature people do not understand the modern trends their children adhere to, whereas the new generations do not want to conform to the traditional rules imposed by their parents. However, misunderstanding between generations is not the only dilemma that has always been there. The question of racial disagreements is another acute issue that has been bothering people for ages.
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No matter how much people talk about equality, people set barriers among those who do not belong to their racial or religious circles. The movie Mississippi Masala, directed by Mira Nair, and the novel The Namesake, written by Jhumpa Lahiri, spotlight the combination of these two problems: generation gap and ethnic priorities. In both pieces, parents think that they know what is better for their children and do not allow the latter to express their personal vision of the situation. The novel and the movie raise the questions of normalization of desire, expression of individual freedom, and reflection of virtue ethics in the generational relationship.
In The Namesake, the problem of ethnic identity is reflected through the young boy’s unwillingness to accept his parents’ beliefs and traditions (Lahiri n.p.). When he discovers that his name – Gogol – is quite uncommon, he gets infuriated and changes it not to the traditional Bengali name but the American one, Nikhil. Along with the name, he changes his lifestyle and entirely embraces the American popular culture (Lahiri n.p.). The problem appeared as an act of rebellion.
The young man does not want to be different from the people surrounding him. He intends to accommodate the present circumstances in which he lives instead of the traditional rules that have existed in their family for generations. The father does not allow Gogol (Nikhil) to express his individual freedom, which leads to the outburst of disobedience and total negligence of family customs.
The angle under which Nair illuminates the issues of parental dictatorship concerning ethnic beliefs is quite similar to the one depicted by Lahiri in his novel. In Mississippi Masala, the story revolves around the differences between Asians and Black people and their refusal to consider the possibility of co-existence (Nair). Meena, a girl from an Asian family who came to the US after they had been forcefully removed from their home in Uganda, falls in love with a local African American boy, Demetrius. Both communities are strongly opposed to such a union, and the young are overfilled with rebellious ideas and misunderstanding of their closest people.
Both the novel and the movie ends with regretful scenes. In The Namesake, Gogol feels ashamed after his father’s death because he has not paid enough attention to his parent. In Mississippi Masala, Meena’s father feels sorry because he does not belong to his native land any longer. However, these moments of remorse come too late. Thus, it is necessary to analyze the reasons for the initiation of these conflicts and the ways in which they could have been omitted.
The generational relationship represented in the movie, and the novel is reflective of virtue ethics. This approach to ethics is based on the belief that the person’s character is the major element of ethical thinking rather than the regulations about the actions (White 101-102). Since the opinions of young people in both stories were disapproved, the postulates of virtue ethics may be considered not followed.
Family values are considered some of the highest values that people should observe (Brighouse and Swift ix-xi). Still, as it is apparent from The Namesake and Mississippi Masala, young people do not consider the opinions of their families as the only possible approach to the situation. The younger generation strives to pursue happiness in any possible manner, and if neglecting family values is the only way of fulfilling their dreams, children stop obeying their parents. Sometimes, as in The Namesake, children regret their choices, and sometimes, as in Mississippi Masala, parents come to understand that they have been too strict.
Another question discussed in the two pieces is the normalization of desire. According to Hibou, the issue of normality should not be limited by the command of norms that have been established one-sidedly by the governing party (9). In both stories, parents try to dictate to their children what is normal. However, the children do not see these norms as the only possible option. They want freedom: they desire to choose how and with whom to communicate, how to behave, and, ultimately, whom to love. When their families do not demonstrate sufficient support, young people have no other choice than to rebel.
The way of expressing individual freedom in Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake and Mira Nair’s movie Mississippi Masala may not be favored by the older generation, but it is what the younger generation prefers. The children cannot stand being put in strict norms and rules. Young people want to communicate freely and not to be limited by their parents’ choices. Lahiri and Nair show great examples of the consequences of putting the children in strict conditions. Most frequently, too much control leads to an uprising against the system, which is exactly what young characters in the movie and novel did.
Brighouse, Harry, and Adam Swift. Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Hibou, Béatrice. “Desire for Normality, Normative Processes, and Power of Normalization.” The Political Anatomy of Domination, edited by Béatrice Hibou, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 9-58.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Mariner Books, 2004.
Nair, Mira, director. Mississippi Masala. Black River Productions, 1991.
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White, Thomas I. Right and Wrong: A Practical Introduction to Ethics. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2017.