08 March 2013
Gogol Versus Nikhil
Gogol grapples with his name throughout the majority of the novel, yet this tension was in the makings even before his birth. Ashoke and Ashima being immigrants set Gogol up to live in two different cultures, American and Bengali. Many children of immigrants may feel like Gogol, having one foot in each world. Gogol framed his struggle with cultural identity through something tangible, his name. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, Gogol’s struggle with cultural identity is exposed most greatly by the name others call him and his reaction to it.
On Gogol’s first day of school, he gets his first taste of the cultural tension that his name and “good name” generate in typical American setting. Mrs. Lapidus, the principal, demonstrates her confusion to the Bengali tradition of a good name as she “frowns” (58) and “presses her lips together” (59) at Ashoke’s explanations. Lapidus’ expressed confusion and insistence for calling him “Gogol” lets Gogol know that having a separate good name will make him stand out in America. Gogol gets pressure from his father and from Mrs. Lapidus to choose a name to go by, and in essence to choose a side, American or Bengali. The opposing forces of Ashoke and the principal represent the two directions in which Gogol will continue to be pulled. On his first day of kindergarten, Gogol’s reaction to this choice is to go with the name he knows. In doing so, Gogol goes against his father’s wishes and Bengali tradition, a trend that continues to grow as Gogol does.
In high school, Gogol has an experience that solidifies how intensely he is affected by his name, which in inextricably tied to his cultural identity. His English teacher, Mr. Lawson, gives Gogol one of the first positive experiences he has had with his name. “He [Mr. Lawson] called out the name in a perfectly reasonable way, without pause, without doubt, without a suppressed smile, just as he had...