The Namesake': Literary Criticism

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Nilanjana Sudeshna “Jhumpa” Lahiri born on July 11, 1967, is a contemporary Indian American author based in New York City. She is best known for her short stories, novels, and essays in English, and, more recently in Italian. She has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center since 2005. She contributed a lot to the Diasporic writings and Commonwealth Literature. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of the finest among the other fictionists. Lahiri’s work focuses on the Indian-immigrant experience in America. Her debut short fiction collection Interpreter of Maladies (1999) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Most of her works speak about the sensitive dilemmas in the lives of Indians or Indian Immigrants.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing is characterized by her “plain” language and her characters, often Indian Immigrants to America who must navigate between the cultural values of their homeland and their adopted home. Most of her works are autobiographical and frequently draw upon her own experiences and other than that she writes about the Bengali communities with which she is familiar. She examines her characters, struggles, biases, and anxieties to chronicle the nuances and details of immigrant psychology and behavior.

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Not only a diaspora writer of Indian origin but she is also called an American writer, because of her constant obsession with the American way of life. Her narrative words and world run between India and America. Her excellent technique of narration establishes her as one of the towering figures in world literature.

The expressions in her works are crammed with images of loss and longing. Narratives of pain are the narrative characters in her novels. She feels her sense of pain, alienation marginalization, to be a kind of inheritance from her parents. Home, Homeland, and food are the most significant elements of nostalgia. Diaspora protagonists are divided between the two cultures, their native culture and the accultured one.

The most important factor in Jhumpa Lahiri’s narrative technique is very elegant she does away with the repetition of events or concepts in the plots. Lahiri published her first novel, The Namesake in 2003. This anticipation was based on Lahiri’s first book the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories The Interpreter of Maladies. It was originally a novel published in The New Yorker and was later expanded into a full-length novel. In this novel, she portrays the alienation and nostalgic elements faced by the people who migrated from one place to another, and it describes the struggles and hardships faced by the Bengali couple who immigrated to the United States. The theme of this story was influenced by a family story she heard growing up. Her father’s cousin met with a train wreck and then he was rescued only when the workers saw a beam of light reflected off of a watch he was wearing at that time. Similarly, the protagonist’s father in the novel The Namesake was rescued due to his peers recognizing the book that he read by Russian author Nikolai Gogol.

The novel deals with the problems faced problems in language, cultural practice, political ideology, and in social adjustment. They do not have any prejudice against the American culture but they have the prerogative of the home culture in which they are born and brought up. The socio-cultural gap between the First World and the Third World nations is being abridged by constant migration. The Third World migrants have their physical exile in the First World, but they do not have the emotional separation from their cultural past. The culture of the motherland exists as an ethical metaphor at the center of their consciousness. This consciousness of native culture works as an ethical indicator and controller of moral sensibility. In American and European social dynamics Indian immigrants live as the ‘cultural other’ and crave the rich treasures of Indian culture in their emotional longing. In 2003, two novelists of Asian origin Monika Ali for her Brick Lane and Jhumpa Lahiri her The Namesake created sensations in England and America for dealing with the socio-ethical life of immigrants in their cross-cultural consciousness.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian by origin, British by education, and American by citizenship. In her cross-cultural experiences, she is unable to forget her past because of her cultural identities and values, and also she is not able to go with her present life in America. Her characters like what she presents in her novels also have the same characteristics, her characters are mostly of Bengali origins who in their migration enjoy similar experiences like her, they cannot able to forget their past cultural experiences. In the words of Lahiri herself, “I went to Calcutta neither as a tourist nor as an outsider, and yet I also know that as different as Calcutta is from Rhode Island, I belonged there in some fundamental way, in the ways I didn’t seem to belong in the United States” (2001:7).

Being a diasporic writer, she deals with multicultural society partly from ‘the inside’ and partly from ‘the outside’. She struggles hard for her native identity and simultaneously undertakes to evolve a new identity in an adopted Anglo-American cultural landscape. However, in this clash of cultures, she faces an immigrant’s displacement and dislocation. She considers dislocation as a permanent condition of human existence. Hence her sense of belonging to a particular place and culture and at the same time being an ‘outsider’ creates inner tension in her characters.

She believes in existentialism and gives prime importance to the actual being of the individual, and not to the essence. Her characters formulate their existence only by grasping their own immediate experiences. In The Namesake, a novel of uncommon elegance and poise, Lahiri is good at focusing and capturing the world, in a language that is shaped, unornamented, clear as crystal, as if her narrative is a documentary of little lives, displaced and gloomy, fluctuating in an anonymous island, far away from home, and her sensitivity towards this is as transparent and clear as her words. It is her dexterous narrative technique that helps her to reach the inner weave of characters with unexpected twists in the plot and human situations.

Lahiri, unlike Manju Kapur, Bharathi Mukherjee, and Arundhati Roy is not engrossed with gender discrimination; on the other hand, as a South Asian diasporic writer, she writes about ‘human predicament’ and the difficulty of identity in the alienated land of America though she has made it her homeland. Marginality, alienation, and nostalgia are the three predominant features in her writings. In spite of this, she shares remarkable similarities with the native literature enriched by historical connections, spiritual affinities, and racial reminiscences.

Immigration and diaspora are not new phenomena in India and the literature produced by diasporic Indian writers explores the multi-dimensional anxieties of émigré life. There some various kinds of identities knock on each other and create a crisis of identity in the works of reputed writers like Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, and others. The interaction and blend of various cultures certainly open new routes and modes of thinking about the individual and group identities of diasporas, and help them to outgrow the stereotyped experiences of uprootedness, displacement, and marginalization.

The Namesake is an evocative story of Ashima Bhaduri, a student in a degree class in Calcutta who becomes Ashima Ganguli after her betrothal to Ashoke Ganguli. Ashima’s immigrant experience, the clash of cultures in the United States, and her non-acceptance by American society are the main concerns of the novelist in the projection of this Bengali couple and their American-born children. Then Ashima got upset and felt alienated and homesick, spatially and emotionally dislocated from her motherland.

The restlessness of Bengalis in America where they cannot vote is revealed through their discussions about Bengali arts, drama, music, literature, and politics. They experience the spatial, cultural, and emotional emptiness in their effort to settle and alter in a newly adapted country during these days of globalization. The Today Newspaper writes “The namesake is more than a book about a name; it is about finding the identity in a country that will treat you as an alien even if you were born there. But more than that, it’s about rediscovering your roots, and the accidents of the universe that caused you to be. And that’s something all of us can identify with” (Indian Subcontinent Edition.2004)

In the superstructure of America’s multicultural society, they have more cross-cultural experiences. This helps them to restore the friendly relations between their inherited and obtained selves for consolation. The Indian immigrants in a difficult situation romanticize the dazzles of American civilization and retain their faith in tradition, custom, myth, history, culture, and folklore for emotional satisfaction. They realize that the cultural availability of India cannot be substituted with the material wealth of America.

All the immigrant Bengali characters in the novel are Hindus. They are the worshippers who believe in the existence of god, they are the theists, the worshippers of Shakti known as the Mother Goddess, a symbol of creator, caretaker, and destroyer. The novelist has no scope to sermonize Hinduism or the Hindu Bengalis in an adverse society but she has tried her best to facilitate Hindu philosophy as a spiritual need for the immigrants through contra-acceleration. In American social life, their religious belief provides them with enough ethical hypothesis to sustain their life. Thus in the portrayal of Indian immigrant characters of Bengali origins, Lahiri indoctrinates ethics in their cultural and national consciousness.

In her creative action, she essentialisms ethical consciousness in the ‘professional Indians’. She conveys a moral to the Indian immigrants in their tracking of material wealth. She asserts that in a change of place or locality, one must preserve philosophical maturity. Throughout the stories of Jhumpa Lahiri, readers should learn bits and pieces about how the life of Indians fit into the lives in America. Out of several stories of Lahiri, some of them have a touch of magic. The author has good narrative skill which captures the reader’s attention immediately. Unlike the other women writers, she is not interested in problems of gender, race, or colonialism. Whether the setting is in Bengal or in the US, she creates a probable world where human relations are all that matter.

“There is something to be said for exile”, and “your learn roots are deep”. The illustration of this truth may be best found in the writings of Jhumpa Lahiri. In spite of the slightly ironic tone employed throughout her descriptions, the final impression is that of an obsession with and admiration of Indian traditional culture. These are the major things in the writings of Jhumpa Lahiri, where the protagonists search for the true identity in the immigrated nations, the symbols of the collective memories of their past, and their attempts to sensitize their sensibility through their communication with the past, with tradition is obvious.

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The Namesake’: Literary Criticism. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-namesake-literary-criticism/
“The Namesake’: Literary Criticism.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/the-namesake-literary-criticism/
The Namesake’: Literary Criticism. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-namesake-literary-criticism/> [Accessed 22 Jun. 2024].
The Namesake’: Literary Criticism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Jun 22]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-namesake-literary-criticism/
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