by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake Theme of Identity
In The Namesake, everybody is just a little bit lost. Or a lot lost, frankly. Practically every character struggles with his or her identity, because practically every character feels the tug and pull of different cultures, different traditions, and different dreams.
Gogol, in particular, is torn between two cultures – the Indian traditions of his parents and the mainstream American culture in which he grows up. His struggle is the same one that his sister Sonia goes through, and his wife Moushumi, too. It's also related to the struggle his parents undergo as immigrants. Each character faces a choice: should I assimilate into American culture? If so, how much? Will I be betraying my roots if I do? Characters wrestle with these questions through their relationships with their names, their relationships with their families, and their choices about the future. Shmoop's recommendation? Therapy.
Questions About Identity
- What are some Bengali customs that Ashoke and Ashima preserve in the United States? What are some American customs that they adopt? How do Gogol and Sonia feel about their choices?
- When does Gogol seem most comfortable with his Indian-American identity? When is he least comfortable? Do you think he evolves or develops over the course of the novel? If so, in what way?
- What roles do these characters' names play? Do they like their names or not? What do their names have to do with their personalities?
- At the end of the novel, do you think Gogol has come to terms with his identity? If so, how so? Or is he still searching?
Chew on This
As immigrants, Ashima and Ashoke create their own hybrid culture, a blend of American and Bengali elements.
Gogol's acceptance of his Indian-American identity is reflected in his gradual acceptance of his name and its history.