by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake Theme of Society and Class
The story of immigrants coming to America in search of the American dream of wealth and success is a familiar one. In The Namesake, another layer is added to the story: class. The main Indian-American characters grow up with parents who are educated professionals; they graduate from Ivy League universities and enter similarly elite careers such as architecture and academia. But these characters often envy the lifestyle of their Anglo-American peers, who come from well-to-do families, who have never had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps the way their Indian parents have. Many of the characters (we're looking at you, Gogol) are acutely conscious of how possessions and property reflect class status.
Questions About Society and Class
- What kinds of different backgrounds do we see in The Namesake? Who has a good educational background? Who has a wealthy background? Middle class? How do all these contrasting backgrounds affect our characters?
- Gerald and Lydia (Maxine's parents), and Astrid and Donald are the two wealthiest couples in the novel. What are their homes like? What activities do they like to do? What types of people do they socialize with? How is their lifestyle different from those of the Gangulis and other Bengali families in the novel?
- Which characters seem to care a lot about money and status? Which characters do not? How do differing attitudes toward money and status create conflict between characters, for example, between Gogol and Maxine, or Gogol and Moushumi?
- Do any characters change class throughout the course of the novel? If so, how does that change affect them?
Chew on This
Gogol and Moushumi's marriage fails because they have different attitudes toward money and class.
Although the Indian-American characters are encouraged by their parents to go to elite universities and enter lucrative professions, they are often embarrassed by their humble beginnings once they become successful.