Written by Jhumpa Lahiri, the book, Namesake, captures how individuals struggle with identity. Throughout the book, Gogol is caught up in an identity crisis as he strives to understand conflicting cultures and identities. Jhumpa Lahiri portrays Gogol as a lost insecure boy, fighting against the norm in the country he lives in, and living with his parents’ customs.
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Gogol is lost early in life when his parents decide to give him a second name after he joins kindergarten. The parents want him to have two identities with one represented by the name ‘Nikhil’, which should be used at school to fit in the American culture and ‘Gogol’ to be used at home as a representative of the Indian culture. However, Gogol does not want a name change for “He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn’t know. Who doesn’t know him” (Lahiri 57).
As a little boy learning new things every day, a name represents something, but this incident fades from Gogol’s mind and he maintains his original name. However, after he turns 11, the identity crisis arises again on a class trip to a cemetery as Gogol discovers the meaning of his name, which is not likeable as he discovers it has nothing to do with Bengali, his ancestral home, but it has everything to do with a Russian.
By the time he turns 14, he already hates his hitherto cherished name and on one occasion, he drops his first name and introduces himself as ‘Nikhil’. However, this change of name does not solve Gogol’s crisis, as he has to contend with a cultural crisis as explored next.
Nikhil alias Gogol is lost between the American and Indian cultures. His two names represent the two cultures and he has to live with it. Nikhil becomes the American twin brother to the Indian Gogol, but one individual carries the two personalities. At one point, Gogol feels as “If he’s cast himself in a play acting the part of twins, indistinguishable to the naked eye, yet fundamentally different” (105).
The ‘Gogol’ side of this confused young man has to treasure and practice Indian customs and upholds their values. On the other side, the ‘Nikhil’ side has to live as a liberated American youth defined by modernity and consumerism. These differing demands leave Gogol confused. However, one wonders why not drop the Indian identity now that he is living in America and he rarely visits Bengali. Well, that is a possibility Gogol considers, but he is proved wrong after his father dies.
After the death of his father, Gogol retracts from his earlier rebellion towards Indian values and he assumes the role of the ‘head of the family’ as the first son according to Indian customs. During the mourning period, “he and his mother and Sonia eat a mourner’s diet, forgoing meat and fish” (180). Despite his earlier loathing of the Indian practices that he has to uphold, Gogol embraces the practices, which then leaves him lost even more. He has to remain an Indian, but live in America and this conflict and confusion is unending.
In conclusion, Gogol is a lost person throughout the chronicles of Namesake. He has to deal with his two names and live according to their meanings. He also has to blend the American and Indian cultures and live with the two. Ultimately, Gogol loses the fight to be liberated from the Indian cultural practices as he turns back to the same customs after the death of his father, and thus throughout the book, he is a confused person as presented by the author.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.