Jhumpa Lahiri’s Novel The Namesake

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s Novel The Namesake, how does Gogol’s mixed cultural heritage define his ideas and experience of love?


In the novel, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the Ganguli family is described, where it moves from Calcutta to the United States intending to start a new life. An American boy called Gogol Ganguli is the key character in the entire story and is raised by his family in the new country. The main theme raised of the character is love, where he has a love affair with the American Women, instead of Indian because he is not attracted to the Bengali culture. The story depicts the theme of love, where Gogol makes various attempts to date several women but fails to be happy ending with them since they are of divergent cultural backgrounds.  The reason for the sad endings with them is the discrepancy of the cultural backgrounds. Despite him ending up with a Bengali woman, he is still is not happily married due to the cultural background issue. Therefore, the mixed cultural heritage of Gogol is the key hindrance to him finding the love of his life.

Throughout the story, Gogol faces a major dilemma on facing love. He faces a dilemma on finding his love by listening to the advice given to him by his Bengali parents. At the commencement of the Novel, Gogol is seen falling in love with An American girl Ruth. He hence goes to Ruth’s house, where her parents are happy to accept Gogol to be her boyfriend.  On the other hand, after knowing about Ruth, Gogol’s parents refuse to accept her and narrate to Gogol what happened to Bengali men who married American Women.  The parents state that such marriages always do not have a happy ending. The author states in the novel that the “marriage that has ended in divorce” between Bengali men and American women ( (Lahiri 117). Despite their love for each other, the family believes they would break up due to cultural differences. Therefore, the Bengali customs suggest Gogol choose his lover from his own culture, making it very hard for him ever to love someone else.

Another major challenge faced by Gogol is the fact that he also does not love himself. He gets permission from his parents to change his name since Gogol is neither Indian nor American, but Russian. However, the students in his class also tend to tease him, where no one takes him seriously. Asked by the judge why he would want to change his name to Nikhil, he tells the judges that “I’ve always hated it” (Lahiri 102). This is proof of how not only doe s him not his namesake but also dislike himself as Gogol.  This makes it hard to not only love from other cultures but also his own.

The love affair between Gogol and Maxine is not an indication of love, but rather since he does not want to go against the Bengali customs.  After Gogol dates Maxine, he starts to lose touch with his family and even decides to move to Maxine’s house due to the dislike of his won culture. According to As Natalie Friedman writes in “From Hybrids to Tourists: Children of Immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, the relationship between Gogol and Maxine is seen to be one that “is seeking a fantasy of upper-middle-class American life” (Friedman 121). It depicts that Gogol is mainly attracted to American life and would want to be an American.  However, after his dad’s death, Gogol stops being in touch with Maxine. According to Lahir. Gogol “doesn’t bother [her], introduce [her], [and] stay close by her side” (Lahiri (187). This indicates that Gogol was not in love with Maxine since he fails to worry or even take care of her. Therefore, it manifests that the mixed culture identity makes him get confused about choosing his real love.

Gogol’s mixed culture identity challenge can also be experienced when he is in an unhappy marriage to his Indian American girlfriend, Moushumi. This type of relationship is not grounded on love but rather his aim of making his mother happy.  After breaking up with Maxine, the mother wants Gogol to marry a woman of Bengali background. Moushumi is his parents’ friend’s daughter. The girl’s parents also share a similar ideology and would be pleased if the two got married. Since they do not want to disappoint their parents, they decide to marry them off. According to the Novel, “Gogol and Moushumi agree to “give in to these expectations'” (Lahiri 219).hus, the marriage between the two is not based on love but on fulfilling the parents’ cultural expectations.  As Tamara Bhalla writes in “Being (and feeling) Gogol, “courtship [and] marriage fulfill a sense of cultural obligation” to their parents (Bhalla 116).

The ideologies and experience of love for Gogol have been greatly affected by mixed cultural heritage. He, therefore, ends up divorcing Moushumi, gets depressed, and decides to take a trip to relax. After one year of the divorce, Gogol reflects on the failed marriages, which still bother him.  He is unable to get rid of his failures. According to Lahir, “a sense of failure and shame persists, deep and abiding” (Lahiri 283). He ends up becoming an upset man who is on the verge of losing himself since he cannot step out of his failed marriages. At the end of the story, we learn that even after marrying a similar background at the end of the novel.  It is manifest that marriage is hard to handle for Gogol.  This shows that Gogol has a broken heart despite mixed cultural heritage. It is also manifest that his life with several women has varied ethnic backgrounds, but he fails to find his true love since he cannot love.


Gogol’s mixed cultural heritage greatly defines his ideas and experience of love, as seen in the Novel the Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.  At the beginning of the novel, he is seen to date an American Woman, which is seen as turning back his own culture. He later marries a Bengali woman to fulfill the desires and needs of his parents.  This indicates Gogol’s confusion, where he is conflicted between his mixed cultural heritage and going for true love. At ten ed his marriage ends up in a divorce, making him very hopeless and sad, and also becomes impossible for him to love. In the Novel, Gogol proves that a mixed cultural heritage can make people lead unhappy lives. This can then be made worse by living according to parents’ expectations. Anyone needs to love whoever they want without getting pressured by cultural identification and societal expectations.



Works Cited

Bhalla, Tamara. “Being (and feeling) Gogol: reading and recognition in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.” MELUS 37.1.” (2012).

Friedman, Natalie. “From Hybrids to Tourists: Children of immigrants in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.” Critique 50.1 .” (2008): 111-26.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. ” The namesake: A novel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.” ( 2004).

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