“Being a foreigner is a sort of life-long pregnancy-A Perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an on-going responsibility, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding like pregnancy being a foreigner Ashima believes, is something that elicit the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect” (Lahiri, The Namesake)
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake revolves around the themes of Alienation, dual identity, nostalgia, homesickness, immigration, identity crisis and belonging. Gogol is the first child of Ashoke and Ashima. He feels unconfident and turns into an introvert as result his name and his roots from Bengal. “And so it occurs to him that no one he knows in the world, in Russia or India or American or anywhere, shares his name. Not even the source of his namesake” (Lahiri, The Namesake) His naming, acceptance by the American friends, ambivalence towards the Bengali culture, dual identity (American and Bengali), his choosing of American identity by cutting off his connection with the Bengali culture are of crucial importance in context of challenging the American and Eurocentric view of the world and self. He hesitates in using his name originated from India in front of his American friends. Before the death of his father he shies away from the responsibilities of his family which is common in America and Europe as the concept of family is different in West than the East but once his father dies he starts taking all the responsibilities of the family like a typical Eastern male and helps his mother by shouldering the problems with her. Here Gogol challenges the American and Eurocentric view of the family. In Europe or America the parents and children are free from all the responsibilities of the family once the children turn eighteen (18).
Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of two generations of Indian family and their struggle to acculturate themselves in the West. She presents a gloomy spectacle of racism, prejudice and marginalization in which Gogol, the son of a Bengali couple, Ashoke Ganguli and Ashima Ganguli, becomes a victim of it. Gogol struggles to transform himself by escaping from the traditions of the community of Indian immigrants to which his family belongs but fails in doing so because even after changing his name to Nikhil, he could not find and escape in the American society. Ashima, while living in America, struggles to sense the belonging to American culture and atmosphere. She finds it extremely difficult to adjust to the American life style and society. She desperately tries to preserve and keep live her culture in a foreign land. Although it is impossible to walk into a mist and not get wet but Ashima remains Bengali and looks after her kids: Gogol and Sonia in a typical Indian way and teaching them both American and Bengali culture. Jhumpa Lahiri explains her situation in these words. “True to the meaning of her name, she will be without borders, without a home of her own, a resident everywhere and nowhere” (Lahiri). It is said that home is where the heart is. Ashima, after spending more than thirty years in America and securing all the privileges of the American citizens like driving license and social security card, she never felt at home. Her heart always lived in Bengal. Lahiri skillfully portrays the problems of immigrants through the character of Ashima;
“For thirty three years she missed her life in India. Now she will miss her job at the library, the women with whom she has worked. She will miss throwing parties, she will miss living with her daughter…she will miss the Opportunity to drive…she will miss the country in which she had grown to know and love her husband” (Lahiri, The Namesake)
Chandra Talpade Mohanty stated that “Eastern women are sexually constrained, ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, religious, domesticated, family-oriented, victimized, etc.” (Chandra Talpade Mohanty 1988) Jhumpa Lahiri counters this argument by portraying the character of Ashima as an educated and respected lady. She also counters the argument that the women of third world countries are ignorant. Ashima understands the ways of the western world and tries to adapt them which prove that Eastern women are equally capable of doing what the western women do. One of the events that redefined Ashima was her pregnancy which was a source of unbearable sufferings. It helped her in shaping ability to suffer and bear every difficulty. She defines every suffering by connecting to her pregnancy metaphorically;
“For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life had vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding” (Lahiri, The Namesake)
Living in America, Ashok and Ashima could not restrain themselves from the Bengali culture. They created a circle of Bengalis around them because they were nostalgic and felt homesick. They conversed in Bengali inside their home Lahiri explains their situation in these words “Ashoke and Ashima created their own circle of immigrants Bengalis and they all came from Calcutta and for this reason only they are friends. The husbands are teachers, researchers, doctors, engineers. The wives homesick and bewildered turn to Ashima for recipes and advise.” (Lahiri, The Namesake). Gogol and Sonia strived to create their own identity other than the Bengali identity imposed on them by their parents. Gogol tries to create a new identity for himself by changing his name from Gogol to Nikhil. He created a dual identity for himself. Nikhil is a free man from all the bondages of his Bengali culture while Gogol ties him down to his native culture. He strives to achieve both American and Bengali cultural values. Gogol’s character questions the superiority of American culture by turning to the Bengali culture towards the end of the novel.