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Setting and Adaptation in The Namesake

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In the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the main character, Gogol, is forced to adjust to many different environments as he ages; including Calcutta, the different apartments he occupied throughout college, and his ex-girlfriend Maxine’s house. Gogol’s parents, Ashima and Ashoke, were born in India; however Gogol was born in America. Because of this difference in upbringing, Gogol and his parents shared very different definitions of home. The culture clash between Gogol’s Bengali heritage and new American ideals brought on internal conflict for him, as he struggled to decide where he really belonged during his childhood and even continuing into his adulthood.

Starting early in his infanthood, Gogol and his family made infrequent trips to Calcutta, India, where most of Ashima and Ashoke’s family lived. They would either go for just a visit, or make the trip due to a recent death in their family. Gogol never considered Calcutta his home, like his parents did. He and his sister dreaded the trips there, especially the one they took for eight months while Gogol was in 10th grade. While they are getting ready to leave Gogol expresses disinterest in India being his temporary home, “…labeled with the address of his father’s home in Alipore. Gogol always finds the labels unsettling, the sight of them making him feel that his family doesn’t really live on Pemberton Road.” (147) However, Lahiri suggests that “Within minutes, before their eyes Ashoke and Ashima slip into bolder, less complicated versions of themselves, their voices louder, their smilers wider, revealing a confidence Gogol and Sonia never see on Pemberton Road. “I’m scared, Goggles,” Sonia whispers to her brother in English, seeking his hand and refusing to let go.” (150) The transformation of Ashima and Ashoke when they arrive in India suggest that they consider themselves home, while Gogol and Sonia are slightly skeptical and weary of this unfamiliar place. Ashima and Ashoke attempted to keep Bengali customs and traditions alive while living in America, for example the two names given to their son, Gogol and Nikhil. Gogol, however, did not understand the tradition and instead went against his parents’ wishes; he declared his “good” name the same as his “pet” name.

It is evident that Gogol never considered his place of heritage in Calcutta home in the manner of his parents; he was born in America surrounded by American ideals, which caused him to consider that his home. After Gogol graduates high school and is accepted to Yale, he moves into a dormitory in New Haven with two roommates. In Chapter 5 while he is living in the dorm, he makes frequent weekend visits home to visit his family on Pemberton Road, however on one particular weekend he makes the declaration that he considers his dorm his home: “One weekend Gogol makes the mistake of referring to New Haven as home. “Sorry, I left it at home,” he says… Ashima is outraged by the remark, dwelling on it all day. “Only three months, and listen to you,” she says, telling him that after twenty years in America, she still cannot bring herself to refer to Pemberton Road as home.” (193-194) This quote is another example of how his parents will probably always refer to India as their home, while their children, especially Gogol, take comfort in different environments in America and adapt their definition of home. Gogol admits that “…it is his room at Yale where [he] feels most comfortable.” (194) He states how he enjoys the feel of his dormitory, the oldness and grace especially, he also claims that it feels more like home than his house on Pemberton Road. Thus, Gogol’s temporary place of solace becomes his Yale dorm instead of his childhood house, suggesting that he more easily adapts to new places than his parents do.

Another home that Gogol grows accustomed to is his girlfriend at the time, Maxine’s parents house in New York. He spent a lot of time there, whether it was spending the night or attending a dinner party thrown by Maxine’s parents, Gerald and Lydia. Eventually, Gogol is asked to move in with Maxine. He quickly adjusts to the Ratliffs lifestyle and their more laid-back tendencies. On page 251, Lahiri writes “And yet here he is, night after night, a welcome addition to the Ratliffs’ universe, doing just that.” Gogol starts to put off going back to Pemberton Road to visit his family, as he would rather spend the weekend with Maxine and her parents. Which suggests that his definition of home had changed yet again, and he felt most comfortable in the gigantic Greek Revival that Maxine grew up in. Also, a frequent theme in the novel was families putting their last name on the door/mailbox of their home, something Gogol never did at his apartment while dating Maxine. Lahiri portrays that his apartment at the time was never considered home, “His futon and his table, his kettle and toaster and television and the rest of his things, remain on Amsterdam Avenue. His answering machine continues to record his messages. He continues to receive his mail there, in a nameless metal box.” (248-249) This quote suggests that although he was technically living there, he never considered it as much home as the Ratliffs house.

Gogol moves through and visits many different places throughout his life, whether in India or America. However, he always seemed to change his definition of home and where he felt most comfortable. It changed with different goals, different girlfriends, and different desires. Some places he adapted to more easily, such as the Ratliffs home; others prove somewhat more difficult to adapt to, like his grandparents’ home in Calcutta, where his parents felt most at home.

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