Study Guide

The Namesake Family

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Family

Chapter 2
Ashoke Ganguli

Instead he tells her what Rana told him a few minutes ago, what Rana couldn't bear to tell his sister, over the telephone, himself: that her father died yesterday evening, of a heart attack, playing patience on his bed. (2.96)

There is a certain reserve, even between family members, that makes it difficult for Rana, Ashima's brother, to tell Ashima that her father has died. Only Ashoke is able to do so, because he and Ashima are so close.

Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second. (2.15)

Ashoke is delighted with the birth of his son, which he associates with his miraculous rescue from a train wreck. For Ashoke, family will continue to be a source of happiness, no matter how much Gogol tries to muck it up in the future.

Chapter 3
Ashoke Ganguli

For the sake of Gogol and Sonia they celebrate, with progressively increasing fanfare, the birth of Christ, an event the children look forward to far more than the worship of Durga and Saraswati. (3.59)

Ashoke and Ashima seem to adopt American customs for the sake of their American-born children. Do they have anything to gain from assimilating, too?

In some senses Ashoke and Ashima live the lives of the extremely aged, those for whom everyone they once knew and loved is lost, those who survive and are consoled by memory alone. Even those family members who continue to live seem dead somehow, always invisible, impossible to touch. (3.58)

Ashima and Ashoke feel cut off from the families they left behind in India. Of course they have their children with them in America, but the network of their extended family is thousands of miles away. They have no support system, and that's one of the things that makes life difficult.

Chapter 4
Ashoke Ganguli

Ashoke wonders how closely Gogol resembles himself at this age. But there are no photographs to document Ashoke's childhood; not until his passport, not until his life in America, does visual documentation exist. (4.11)

That's got to be tough. Memories are usually accompanied by photographs, but it's as if much of Ashoke's childhood has been erased. This probably makes it harder for Gogol to relate to his dad, too, because he has no proof that Ashoke was once young like him.

Chapter 5
Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

Though there are only inches between them, for an instant his father is a stranger, a man who has kept a secret, has survived a tragedy, a man whose past he does not fully know. (5.87)

When Gogol finds out the source of his name it should be a moment of revelation right? An ah-ha moment, no? He has the chance to better understand his roots and his identity. But instead, he focuses on the fact that father has now become a stranger to him. Why do you think that is?

Chapter 6
Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

At times, as the laughter at Gerald and Lydia's table swells, and another bottle of wine is opened, and Gogol raises his glass to be filled yet again, he is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine's family is a betrayal of his own. (6.54)

Gogol gets absorbed into Maxine's family, where he gets to live out the fantasy of having an Anglo-American family. But why does he have that family in the first place? What is it about his own family that isn't quite up to snuff?

He didn't want to go home on the weekends, to go with them to pujos and Bengali parties, to remain unquestionably in their world. (6.2)

Unlike his parents, who yearn to be back in the world of their parents and families, Gogol wants to create as much distance between himself and his parents as possible. That means avoiding their foreign customs, which seem to bother Gogol most of all.

Chapter 7
Ashoke Ganguli

"Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go." (7.93)

What a great moment between father and son. Gogol can cherish this memory when he grows older and his dad is gone. It's a rare moment of connection between the two of them.

Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

He knows now the guilt that his parents carried inside, at being able to do nothing when their parents had died in India, of arriving weeks, sometimes months later, when there was nothing left to do […] Years later Gogol had learned the significance, that it was a Bengali son's duty to shave his head in the wake of his parent's death. (7.70)

As Gogol grows up, his attitude toward his family changes, and he realizes how much he loves them – but only after his father has died. It's too late to reconnect with his dad, but it might not be too late for him to learn about his Bengali roots.