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The Namesake

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Gerald and Lydia Ratliff

Character Analysis

Maxine's parents Gerald and Lydia Ratliff are the polar opposites of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli. Lydia is a textiles curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and her husband is a successful lawyer. Neither of these two have much of a personality in the novel, and they are often described as a unit: a wealthy, cultured, Anglo-American couple who host dinner parties with intelligent and witty guests. Their importance in the novel lies in what they represent to Gogol.

On Gogol's first trip to the Ratliffs' it is clear that they are the richest of the rich. Their home stuns Gogol, who "admir[es] it for several minutes like a tourist before opening the gate." (6.12) As Gogol becomes incorporated into their family, he falls in love with the glitz and glam, especially when it comes to the parties: "He is always struck by these dinners: only a dozen or so guests sitting around the candlelit table, a carefully selected mix of painters, editors, academics, gallery owners, eating the meal course by course, talking intelligently until the evening's end." (6.54)

Much like Maxine, her parents represent an easy and alluring escape from Gogol's humble Bengali roots. Who wouldn't want to attend lavish dinner parties and spend the summer in New Hampshire? But in the end, no matter how kind the Ratliffs are to him, no matter how much their welcome him into their elite world, they are not family. When Gogol realizes this, that's the last we see of the Ratliffs.

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