Theme of Self Discovery in the Novels The Namesake and The Secret Life Of Bees

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Well known novels use contrasting strategies to portray a story to the reader. In the novels The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, several strategies are used to express the idea of self discovery.

In The Namesake, the Ganguli family moves from Calcutta to the United States. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli struggle finding themselves in a new country with new traditions, people, and lifestyles. In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily is a fourteen year old girl living in South Carolina with her abusive father. She and her stand-in mother, Rosaleen run away from the dangerous conditions of their hometown to find the where Lily belongs. Sue Monk Kidd and Jhumpa Lahiri use various strategies to portray the story differently to express the theme of self identification within the novels, with their contrasting uses of detail, importance of setting, and the number of perspectives.Detail is a literary device often used by authors to aid the reader in imagining the world of the book. Detail is used thoroughly within The Secret Life of Bees and The Namesake, but in different ways. The Secret Life of Bees uses detail to show the real-world depiction of the world where Lily and the other characters coexist. One example of detail being used by Kidd is when Lily first arrives at the Boatwright house, she meets June Boatwright at the door and the reader can sense Junes personality through the details provided by Lily.

Lily presents the reader with details on the June Boatwright outward appearances and mannerisms, “When the door opened, it was not the woman in white but another one wearing red, her hair cut so short it resembled a little gray, curlicue swim cap pulled tight over her scalp. Her face started at us, suspicious and stern. I noticed she carried a musical bow tucked underneath her arm like a riding whip. It crossed my mind that she might use it on us” (Kidd 68). This clever use of detail used by Sue Monk Kidd sets up the reader with a general understanding of the Boatwright sisters. Detail allows the author to build upon the characters later in the novel. Opposite from Sue Monk Kidd, Jhumpa Lahiri uses detail in The Namesake to unveil the emotions of the various characters. Since the characters’ emotions are not handed to the reader often, the detail in the novel makes the reader infer the underlying feelings of the character.

At one point in the novel, Ashoke ends up in the hospital after a painful stomach ache. Ashima is at her house writing Christmas cards to her family members. However, she does not call her children to alert them that their father is hospitalized. Ashima reasons with herself, “She wonders if she ought to call Gogol and Sonia, to tell them that their father is in the hospital. But quickly she reminds herself that he is not technically in the hospital, that if this were any other day but Sunday he’d be at a doctor’s office having a ordinary checkup. He had not spoken to her normally, sounding a bit tired, perhaps, but not in great pain” (Lahiri 165). This passage illustrates Ashima’s denial that something may be wrong with her husband. Jhumpa Lahiri uses these detail to give the reader a sense of unrest with Ashmia’s behavior and thoughts, helping them understand her willingness to push away dark thoughts. Throughout The Namesake, detail is used to unveil the emotions and desire of the characters, unlike The Secret Life of Bees, where the author uses detail to add realism and add to the description of the setting. Within both of these novels, detail is used in contrasting fashions to advance the theme of finding identity.

Setting is often used to preface the initial conflicts within a novel. The Secret Life of Bees is placed in South Carolina, which has a highly racist population. In this novel, Sue Monk Kidd uses setting to initiate Lily and Rosaleen’s fleeing. The author’s use of setting is vital to the plot and conflict. The setting is used directly when a group of white men harass Rosaleen and she fought back. Lily saw that, “…Rosaleen lay sprawled on the ground, pinned, twisting her fingers around clumps of grass. Blood ran from a cut beneath her eye. It curved under her chin the way tears do. When the policemen got there, he said we had to get into the back of his car. ‘You’re under arrest,’ he told Rosaleen. ‘Assault, theft, and disturbing the peace’” (Kidd 33). This excerpt depicts the importance of setting in the novel. If the setting was not in a highly racist community, Rosaleen most likely would not be arrested, therefore stumping the plot. Sue Monk Kidd uses setting as the instigator for her story.

On the other hand, in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri did not depend on the setting for advancement in plot. Although the Ganguli family did move from Calcutta, which was a important part of the plot, it was not the true setting of the novel. Ashima and Ashoke moved from Calcutta, India to Massachusetts, America. No conflict or plot was initiated by the location of the novel, “At dawn a taxi is called to ferry them through deserted Cambridge streets, up Massachusetts Avenue and past Harvard Yard, to Mount Auburn Hospital” (Lahiri 2). If it had been placed on the opposite coast of America, nothing would have changed. Even though they both portray the theme of self identity, the readers can see the different uses of setting between Sue Monk Kidd, which initiated the plot, and Jhumpa Lahiri, which did not.

The usage of perspective is very important because it drives the story in a direction. Perspective can also change the readers outlook on the novel entirely. If the book is in a different point of view or multiple perspectives, then the readers have many or different viewpoints on the plot. Authors usually use either one point of view or multiple to advance the story in the way they sees fit. Perspective is used in varying ways in The Secret Life of Bees and The Namesake. The Secret Life of Bees has only one perspective, because the story only focuses on Lily’s conflicts. The perspective does not deviate to any other character in the novel. It is used to show Lily’s journey in finding herself. This is vital to the story because it allows the reader to be fully immersed in Lily’s life and discoveries without other perspectives getting in the way. At the end of the novel the readers are able to see her resolution, “I guess I have forgiven us both, although sometimes in the night my dreams will take us back to sadness, and I have to wake up and forgive us again” (Kidd 301).

Within this passage the reader witnesses Lily’s resolution on her mother’s past actions. If The Secret Life Of Bees had been written in, T-Ray’s, Lily’s father’s point of view, then the reader could possible have a different opinion on characters such as Lily or Rosaleen. On the opposite spectrum, The Namesake employs multiple perspectives. Within the novel, the reader is able to see through Ashoke, Ashima, Gogol and Gogol’s wife, Moushumi’s point of view. This helps the reader develop a broader view of the characters as individuals. Towards the end of the novel, Gogol learns of Moushumi’s affair. Through Gogol’s perspective, you are able to see his negative reaction to her betrayal. “‘Who’s Dimitri?’ he’d asked. And then: ‘Are you having a affair?’ The question had sprung out of him, something he had not consciously put together in his mind until that moment.He felt the chill of her secrecy, numbing him, like poison spreading quickly through his veins” (Lahiri 282). This citation showcases Gogol’s sadness after hearing of her affair.

However, this view is only one sided, with no input from the opposing side. Whether or not Moushumi’s reasons are justified, she did have purpose to her actions. Moushumi often infers that she feels restless in her marriage with Gogol and starts to lash out at Gogol while having a affair with another man. She admits that while her marriage is on shaky ground, “This is what upsets her the most to admit: the affair causes her to feel strangely at peace, the complication of it calming her, structuring her day” (Lahiri 266). When the reader is given her point of view, right or wrong, they are able to understand both characters’ frame of mind regarding the situation. These excerpts represent how two different perspectives can give the readers a well rounded view on different events in The Namesake that the reader would not get while reading The Secret Life Of Bees, while restarting the theme of self discovery.

The contrasting use of detail, setting and perspective by Kidd and Lahiri, show the differences in the usage of literary devices in both novels. In The Secret Life of Bees detail is used to expand on the setting and description of characters in the novel. As well Kidd used setting to be the catalyst of the novel and used perspective to focus on one character’s journey throughout the story. In The Namesake, detail is used to help the reader infer the hidden emotions of the characters. Setting is used as only a mere place for the plot to unfold and perspective is used to allow the reader to view the plot of the novel from many angles, not being restricted to one point of view. Many of the greatest novel use varying styles and methods to tell a story.

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