Namesake By Jhumpa Lahiri: The Importance Of Family

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Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with our families. No family is perfect. All families fight, they disagree, they drift apart, but in the end, they will always be there for each other no matter what. I know this is cheesy, but it’s true.

As I’ve been reading the Namesake, I’ve noticed that the theme of family is recurring throughout the novel. The story revolves around the Ganguli family, and the trials and heartaches that they experience. Lahiri depicts the theme of family by revealing the contrasting perspectives of characters. As readers, we see both perspectives on family: the views of Ashima and Ashoke and the views of Gogol and Sonia.Ashima and Ashoke view family as essential. They are both from India where they had very close knit families. All the members of the family would live in the same household and family gatherings would be held often. Starting from a young age, both Ashima and Ashoke were surrounded by close relatives that shared the same traditions and culture. “Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second”. It is evident that Ashoke feels overjoyed about the birth of his first child, which he associates with his miraculous survival of the train accident. As a result of his survival and the birth of his son, he realizes just how precious life really is. We can see here that for Ashoke, family is important and will always bring him happiness. Unlike their parents, Gogol and Sonia disregard the importance of family. They are born in America where they are less influenced by Bengali culture and are rarely surrounded by their blood relatives due to the distance. For Gogol and his sister, it is a process to learn to love and appreciate family. Gogol was given a name from his family that he has always hated. Due to his name, not only does he feel torn between his American life and his Bengali roots, but he is also connected to Russian literature. His struggle to find his true identity has a great effect on him. It causes him to change his name and become less appreciative of Bengali culture and of his own family. Once he changes his name to Nikhil, Gogol finds within himself confidence that he never had before. He gains independence from living on his own and even more confidence from dating girls. Gogol becomes involved with many different types of families because of the girls he dates. Maxine’s rich, sophisticated, American family in particular, contrasts his own. In Gogol’s eyes, the Ratliff’s lifestyle is superior to his own family’s lifestyle. They are beautiful people who live in a palace they call home full of beautiful things.”He goes shopping with her on Madison Avenue at the stores they must be buzzed into, for cashmere cardigans and outrageously expensive English colognes that Maxine buys without deliberation or guilt”. The Ratliff’s luxurious lifestyle is something Gogol has never experienced before and he quickly falls in love with it. Gogol becomes effortlessly incorporated into their lives. He believes he is happy living with the Ratliffs, “free of expectation, or responsibility, in willing exile from his own life”. While living in their mansion, he distances himself further from his own family and abandons his parent’s foreign customs. Unlike Gogol’s parents who long for the time when they visit their relatives in Calcutta, Gogol wants nothing to do with his old life. He creates as much distance as possible between him and his family, rarely visiting or calling either of his parents. He remains happy where he is, living a fantasy life with the Ratliffs. It is Ashoke’s death that unites the Gangulis and causes Gogol to realize his love for his family.

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During this difficult time, both Gogol and Sonia go back to Boston to be with their mourning mother. Throughout his time in Boaton, Gogol’s attitude towards his family drastically changes and he becomes more aware of his role as a son. Also the ceremonial aspects of his father’s death are important to him and cause him to grow closer to Bengali traditions. He is reminded of his family gatherings with other Bengali families in the area which tied them back to Calcutta.

Overall, Gogol it is a process, but Gogol learns to appreciate and love his family’s differences. This is my family. From oldest to youngest, my family consists of my dad, my mom, myself and my little brother. Like the Ganguli family, there are times when we are more distant than others. We each have our different schedules and are busy with different things. For example, the days that my parents leave early for work, I have an activity after school, I stay up late to do homework, I don’t see them very much. However, without question, dinner is the time that we always spend together. We’ll tell each other about our day, debate about certain topics or just talk about about anything at all.

The Ganguli family and my family share many things in common, one of which is the fact that we are not perfect. We argue, fight and experience times when we want to strangle each other. I remember when I was young, my family decided to go on a road trip to Florida for two weeks. By the last couple of days in Florida, I was sick of my family and I simply wished for some time alone. I tried to isolate myself from them in very way possible. For example, during the span of multiple days I stayed at our hotel alone, while the rest of my family went out to do things. Looking back on it now, I regret trying to distance myself from my family during those last couple of days. It not only made me miserable, but my family as well. Gogol most likely felt the same way after the passing of his father. He realized afterwards how little of his father he actually knew. He probably felt very sorry and guilty for not spending more time with his father and not getting to know more of him. I will try my best not to end this post on a morbid note, but we never know how long members of our family will be around for. Today could be their last day, or tomorrow, or sixty seven years from now, we don’t know. Similar to Gogol when he was a teenager, I yearn for the day when I am independent and living on my own. But if I learn anything from this novel, it is that I should not distance myself too far from my family like Gogol did. Family should not be taken for granted, they are a support system and a blessing in life. Thank you for reading another one of my blog posts! Let me know your thoughts and feelings on the subject of family. Why are you grateful for your family? What makes your family unique, quirky or special?

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