Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, “The Namesake,” focuses heavily on the aspect of identity and one’s struggle to maintain identity despite living in a foreign country with several cultures, backgrounds, ideas, and dreams. Lahiri reflects her ideas of identity to the audience through her use of characters, especially Gogol and his immediate family. As they move to America, Ashima and Ashoke, Gogol’s parents, experience the hardships that most immigrants face. The assimilation to a new “American” culture, leaving behind family, and starting a new career are all struggles that Ashima and Ashoke face as they begin a new life in the U.S. The adaptation to a new culture and its values is especially tough for Ashima as she clings to her strong Bengali traditions while trying to raise Gogol in a cultured state like Massachusetts.
The main conflict is seen within Gogol, who carries traditions both in Calcutta and in America. Gogol is a character torn between two identities. On one hand, he is pressured by his family to live the typical life of an Indian boy. On the other, he is passionate about living his own life as an American teenager and experiencing the normal things that typical teenagers in this country face. Eventually, Gogol is absorbed by his desires to conform to the modern American lifestyle. His decisions reflect his opposition to his Indian heritage as he begins to live independently with his girlfriend Maxine. It is only later when Gogol begins to understand his Indian heritage.
In the article “Finding Myself Through My College Major” in the New York Times, the author, Joshua Kam, describes his struggle with identity. He also adds a twist to his description of this heritage by connecting it to his college major. Having been born in Montana, raised in Malaysia, and attending college in Michigan, Joshua Kam is uncertain about where he is really from. Moreover, Joshua strikes similarities to Gogol. Joshua’s parents like Gogol’s are from a foreign country and moved to the United States to start a new life. And like Gogol, Joshua was a child conflicted between two cultures, unable to maintain a steady identity through his childhood. He describes himself as “somewhere in between: a third-culture kid.”
What’s more important is the fact that both Joshua and Gogol eventually find their identities later on in their lives. For Gogol, he begins to take pride in his background after his father’s death. For Joshua, he began to cherish his background through studying history and the classics. He in fact tells the reader that by studying myth and history, he is able to “converse with the distinct voices of my past and quilt together a narrative about movement in place.”
The importance of self-identity is often overlooked in society today. Several people face the same conflict as Gogol and Joshua. Once we are able to find the true identity within ourselves, we are truly able to live freely and with an open mind.