The novel Namesake, written by Jhumpa Lahiri, has a very symbolic title that can be understood in different ways. The most obvious explanation of the name of the book is the fact that its main character has been named as a tribute to a great Russian writer Gogol. At the same time, Gogol, who is the character of Lahiri’s novel, has something in common with the protagonist of “The Overcoat.”
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Both of them were named in a situation of necessity. The Bengali newborn baby was named by his parents in an unthinking moment. They were waiting for the decision of their grandmother, who had a right to choose a name for the newborn member of their family. Just in order to observe a formality and because of Ashoke’s ignorance of American laws, his son was named Gogol.
The main character of Nikolai Gogol’s novel, “The Overcoat,” received his name even in the ridiculous situation. His mother was proposed different variants of names from a church calendar and is not satisfied with them. She named her son after his father, Akaky. “He’ll just have to be Akaky like his father” (Gogol 923).
Both Nikolai Gogol and Jhumpa Lahiri emphasize the importance of a name given to a child. However, they do it with different purposes. In Gogol’s novel, the name Akaky, which may seem strange even to a Russian reader, serves to describe the unimportance and insignificance of this clerk. “In the office, not the slightest respect was shown to him. The porters didn’t get up when he passed” (Gogol, 923).
Lahiri, on the contrary, naming her protagonist Gogol tries to reveal many social problems from immigrants’ life. They are the generation and cultural gaps, the Gogol’s relations with his father, the problems of national identity.
The new overcoat of Akaky has cardinally changed his life. He begins to pay attention to the surrounding environment. He has paid a heavy price for his new overcoat, and he appreciates it so much that this thing practically merges with his individuality. The theft of this overcoat causes Akaky’s death.
As well as Akaky has changed his individuality by means of the overcoat, Gogol tries to change his life by changing his name. His previous name Gogol is tightly connected with his family, and changing it to Nikhil means freedom for him. However, this change is harmful to Gogol. Despite all his efforts, he cannot get rid of his troubles. It is obviously seen in Gogol’s relations with Maxine. Apart from the difference in their financial standing, their attitude to life also varies. Nikhil is attracted by Maxine’s style of life, and he is eager to be the same typical American as she is. At the same time, he is jealous of the fact that Maxine is completely satisfied with her origin and “has never wished she were anyone other than herself” (Lahiri 69).
Unlike Maxine, Moshumi seems to be the perfect match for Gogol, especially from the point of view of their parents. Both of them have Indian roots, and their relations emerge at the moment when Nikhil begins to realize his Bengali origin. Nevertheless, they are too different, and their marriage is unsuccessful.
Both Gogol and Akaky have been given strange names by their parents. At the same time, while in “The Overcoat” this fact is used to emphasize the lack of identity of the main character, Gogol’s unusual name in “The Namesake” is a key point for the unraveling of the plot. Gogol, who is a typical representative of the second-generation immigrants influenced by two cultures, is a true victim of his name, which is neither American no Indian. It is very important that at the end of the novel, Gogol understands the motives of his parents.
Gogol, Nikolai. The Overcoat. n.d. Web.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.