Study Guide

The Namesake Love

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Love

Chapter 1

Like a kiss or caress in a Hindi movie, a husband's name is something intimate and therefore unspoken, cleverly patched over. (1.2)

Ashima and Ashoke's relationship may not be as physically affectionate as, say, the Ratliffs', but they have other ways of showing affection, and they seem deeply, totally in love.

Chapter 5
Ashoke Ganguli

They've even gone so far as to point out examples of Bengali men they know who've married Americans, marriages that have ended in divorce. It only makes things worse when he says that marriage is the last thing on his mind. (5.61)

Ashima and Ashoke have a completely different notion of love and marriage than Gogol. They see love as something tied to marriage and families; Gogol admits that he is more interested in sex. That has to make for some awkward parental powwows.

Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

He cannot imagine coming from such parents, such a background, and when he describes his own upbringing it feels bland by comparison. (5.52)

The first girls Gogol dates are not Indian, and it is their American-ness that attracts him. This particular girl, for example, is from Maine and has divorced parents, which would be unthinkable in Bengali society, so to Gogol it's exciting and exotic.

It is as Nikhil that he loses his virginity at a party at Ezra Stile, with a girl wearing a plaid woolen skirt and combat boots and mustard tights. (5.33)

Gogol can only get up the confidence to hit on girls with his new name, Nikhil. Is that because he thinks the name Gogol is just plain unattractive, or because a new identity makes him bolder?

Chapter 6
Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

And then he remembers that his parents can't possibly reach him: he has not given them the number, and the Ratliffs are unlisted. That here at Maxine's side, in this cloistered wilderness, he is free. (6.140)

Gogol views his romantic relationship as an escape from his past. Come to think of it, it's not clear why else Gogol is attracted to Maxine other than the fact that she is different from him, and different from his family. That's hardly the greatest foundation for a relationship. No wonder it eventually falls apart.

[…] Gogol is reminded that in all his life he has never witnessed a single moment of physical affection between his parents. Whatever love exists between them is an utterly private, uncelebrated thing. (6.51)

These two are extremely anti-PDA. But does that mean that they love each other any less? Probably not. They're just private people. Their love is just between them, and it's nobody else's business.

Chapter 8
Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

He had not expected to enjoy himself, to be attracted to her in the least. It strikes him that there is no term for what they once were to each other. (8.76)

Gogol unexpectedly enjoys his first date with Moushumi, which breaks the pattern of all of his previous relationships with non-Indian women. Maybe there's something to be said for dating someone who understands his background.

Chapter 9
Nikhil/Gogol Ganguli

"Don't get me wrong, Graham's a great guy. But they were too alike somehow, too intense together." (9.85)

Uh oh. Shmoop smells serious trouble, and our heart goes out to Gogol here. Who wants to hear that his wife was more "intense" with another man?

Chapter 10
Moushumi Mazoomdar

The name alone, when she'd first learned it, had been enough to seduce her. Dimitri Desjardins. (10.48)

Uh oh. Unlike Gogol, the name "Dimitri Desjardins" is totally sexy. It's got a French, Russian, sophisticated thing going on, like a name from a romance novel. Gogol is a Russian name too, but it's not as romantic sounding as Dimitri.

It reminds her of living in Paris – for a few hours at Dimitri's she is inaccessible, anonymous. (10.65)

You could say Moushumi is in the same place Gogol was in when he was dating Maxine. She sees her affair with Dimitri as an escape from who she is. Frankly, we wish she had just opted for marriage counseling.

This assurance is important to her; along with the Sanskrit vows she'd repeated at her wedding, she'd privately vowed that she'd never grow fully dependent on her husband, as her mother has. (10.2)

Moushumi does not want to repeat what she views as her mother's mistake. But this vow sets her up for failure later, when she begins to push Gogol away.

They had both acted on the same impulse, that was their mistake. They had both sought comfort in each other, and in their shared world, perhaps for the sake of novelty, or out of the fear that the world is slowly dying. (12.15)

Although Moushumi is the one who had an affair, Gogol knows that their marriage wasn't based on real love, but impulse. He accepts some responsibility for what happened. Do you think this is fair?