The Namesake: Influence Of Culture And Inheritance On People Identity In A Society
The movie entitled “The Namesake,” is an Indian-American movie made in 2006 directed by Mira Nair, and based on the original book written by Jhumpa Lahiri. The story shows how culture and inheritance are influencing people’s identity in society, especially when this one is different from their original one. The novel, through the Ganguli family, shows how the experience of being an immigrant differs from one generation to another. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, are from India live the American dream while their children are American born. As a result, Gogol, their son, struggles to find his identity divided between his Indian heritage and his desire to live an independent life in the American style.
The conflict to have a name and nickname to identify itself to culture is not only recognizable in Indian cultures, but for many immigrants who came to live in the United States, as evidenced by Gogol and his family in Lahiri’s “The Namesake.” To begin with, Gogol identity is linked to his father, because for Ashoke, his name represents hope and all gifts he receives from life after his tragic train accident. Gogol’s name is not even Indian but Russian, which reinforce its uniqueness. For that reason, it is logical to see his name as a strong indicator of his personality and an important variable in the course of his life. For the writer, Jhumpa Lahiri, names are powerful interpreters of identity which justified why Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli wanted to wait for the grandmother to give a name to their son (Sen p.1, The Namesake movie). In the Bengali culture, it is common to wait even years before naming a child because the tradition wants people to have two names, the pet name “daknam”, and the good name “bhalonam” (The Namesake movie). “Daknam,” is the name intimates people use to call him in private, while “bhalonam” is the name used in the outside world by anyone (Sen p.1). Choosing Gogol as a name, was not random.
Actually, Ashoke had a plan for his son, which is to travel and see the world as he did. Moreover, a name does not necessarily have one meaning. A name can be chosen for the its aesthetic aspect, or for personal reasons. In this logic, a name is individual and is associated to a subject. The name “Gogol,” is chosen as daknam while “Nikhil” as bhalonam for a specific reason that Gogol misunderstands. “Gogol” is the bridge between him and the world as an American, and Nikhil the bridge that connect him to his Bengali roots (Sen p.1). To illustrate that, as for many immigrants, immigration is followed by “identity transformation,” which explained why Gogol wants to forge his identity based on his life experience, not based on his father’s expectation (Heilbrunn, Gorodzeisky, and Glikman p.236). Through the character of Gogol, Lahiri shows how a culture clash can affect an immigrant life and his identity development (Bahri p.10).
Therefore, Gogol identity is connected to his father, because it is the combination of his father’s past and hope as well as his cultures that would guide his life. Subsequently, the struggle to fit in both cultures pushed Gogol to change his daknam to “Nikhil” in the desire of a clear identity. In his episodes of self-development, Gogol feels trapped and wants to escape the influence of his family as well as a life dictated by traditions. Here, the main problem is that the influence of a “majority group” has an impact on how immigrants identify themselves (Heilbrunn, Gorodzeisky, and Glikman p.237). When people from the same origin are far from their country, they used to stay in groups sharing a common lifestyle in accordance to their roots. For example, Gogol, “so American in his education” wants to stay away from this group. As a result, he dates an American girl name Maxine who does not share his tradition and who he is considering marrying (Sen p.1).
This disapproval toward his Indian roots is once again something really common in a second immigrant generation. They have received a different education and have developed a different way of thinking from their relatives. The story is actually targeting this immigrant audience who can clearly recognized different similarities with their lives (Bahri p.10). Lahiri herself is part of these people who wants to make their own choices and balance between both cultures carrying two homes with them. In addition, there is a disconnection between Gogol’s family and Maxine’s family. This disconnection is pictured when Gogol’s attempt to the graduation party of her girlfriend and when she mate his family. For instance, Maxine’s family is more seductive with money, friends from high class, while Gogol’s family is more conservative with a different idea of how to act as couple, for example. They know him as Nikhil while his parents still call him Gogol. This culture shock is translated by total ignorance of outsiders cultures, as evidenced by Maxine attitude toward Gogol and his parents (The Namesake movie). At this level, Gogol’s identity is strongly defined by his American education. This one, allows him to be accommodated to Maxine habits, but not his parents. As a result, his desire of a clear identity leads him to be closer to the American culture than his origin culture, like many second immigrant generation . However, Gogol attempts to reconnect with his Indian roots by allowing his culture background to become a part of his identity. His father death, changed something in Gogol that provokes a new step in his identity development.
Consequently, he accepted a blind date set up by his mother with a woman, Moushumi. This one has a similar cultural background as him. By doing so, he is allowing himself to be more comfortable with the different facets of the traditions and culture, which makes a big part of who he is even if he didn’t get to experience it as fully as his parents did. His wife knew him as Gogol and during their first date he presented himself as Nikhil, which shocked her. This small detail, reinforces their relationship because his name “Gogol” connectes them. To illustrate that, Lahiri goal in the character of Gogol, is to help immigrant “who need to make sense of their own identity” (Sen p.2). From that they could embrace their duality and have the bliss of choosing who they want to be as a person. Similarly, the failure of his marriage with Moushumi, marked a new acceptance of his past helped by the hidden message from his father. From the beginning to the end of the story Gogol’s name has always been a symbol of comfort. In fact, he has never been able to completely rejected his name, because it is the bond between his family and him (Sen p.2). As a second immigrant generation, by inheritance he received the obligation to know about his tradition, better understand it, and also carry his name as a reminder of it. To conclude, studying what it means to have a name and nickname to identify itself to a culture is for many immigrants who came to live in the United States, a way to balance between both cultures and carry two homes with them. Gogol’s example is the perfect one to illustrate the difficulty that many immigrants are facing in their quest to defined their identity. An name it is full of meanings and values defining a person as the holder of his origins and traditions.
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