by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake Theme of Family
Since the main character of The Namesake is named after a Russian novelist, we'll take the liberty of recalling something that the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
We're not sure whether The Namesake agrees, but it certainly does explore many different types of families: the extended Bengali family and its customs; American families; smaller nuclear families; families with divorced parents; families with mixed race parents; young parents and their children. Each generation has its own way of being happy or unhappy, with each succeeding generation deciding whether to stick with their parents' customs, or to come up with a few of their own.
Questions About Family
- What is family life like for the Gangulis? What kind of relationship do Ashima and Ashoke have? What kind of relationships do they have with their children, and vice versa?
- Take a look at the Gangulis' visits to India or Ashima's memories of India. What are the differences between family life in India and in the United States?
- What is family life like for Maxine and the Ratliffs? How is it different from the way the Gangulis relate to each other?
- What, other than genes, does Gogol inherit from his parents? What values or ways of looking at the world does he inherit? Which aspects of their lifestyle does he reject? Is he similar to or different from his parents? How so?
Chew on This
Gogol does not fall in love with Maxine; rather, he falls in love with her family, and only because it's so different from his own, and so much more glamorous.
The novel does not take a stance on which type of family, Bengali or Anglo-American, functions better.