“The Namesake,” written by Jhumpa Lahiri , was published in September 2003, . It depicts the hard life of Ashoke and Ashima, two first-generation immigrants from India to the U.S, and the cultural conflicts between their American-born children and them. As a spectator, I do believe that both cultures are privileged in different parts of the books, and the influences on both generation of acculturation and assimilation in this book also need dialectic discussion. But the author ,as I think, cares more about Hindu culture and tends to foreground it.
The life for the first-generation immigrants is very hard. They should not only get used to the new environment, but also bear loneliness. This book reminds me another story that I have read before, "American Dreamer".As Bharati Mukherjee says in “American Dreamer,” “I thought of myself as an expatriate Bengali permanently stranded in North America because of destiny or desire.” In the first ten year staying in Canada, Mukherjee, as an immigrant, had no sense of belonging. She felt like she was a stranger, and Canada, her husband’s country, was a temporary residence for her, or maybe she was just a traveler passing by. At the beginning of the book , when Ashima firstly arrives on the U.S., she has the same feeling as Mukherjee: lonely, no sense of belonging, and strange. The very first impression that the scene gives us is cold. The director uses extremely long shots to give us a full view of the city: snow-covered roofs, dripping icicles, withered trees, and pale cloudy sky. All these sceneries give us no prosperous impression of NYC; instead it’s cold and seems lonesome. In the scene when Ashima knows her husband has to go out, she leans against the wall and lowers her head without saying anything. We can feel her disappointment and unsafety when she finds that she should be alone, because she was to face the whole alien world with her husband. But now, she has to handle all these things herself. There is not much verbal communication between the young couple. Ashima says almost nothing when her husband introduces the utilities with enthusiasm. And there is no emotional expression on her face while her husband is always smiling. This strong contrast gives us the feeling that the new environment is not welcomed by Ashima. In her hometown, she has friends to hang out with and singing classes to take. However, in New York City, she has nothing to do but having a rest in the room and eating the food exotic in a wrong way. In the heart of Ashima, she misses her hometown and the Hindu way of life. Here, the director makes the Hindu culture privileged over the American one.
However, Mukherjee also says, “I am a naturalized U.S. citizen and I take my American citizenship very seriously” (“American Dreamer”). After moving to America, Mukherjee got the sense of belonging. She no longer felt strange or lonely, and she found her role in the society. The same thing also happens to Ashima. During the years she stays in America, Ashima gradually gets used to the new environment. At the end of the story, Ashima decides to spend half year in American, and half year in India. She says on her farewell meeting, “For 25 years, I missed my life in India, and now I will miss my life here, and all of you who become my family…And I will miss this country in which I had grown to know and love my husband.” Indian is the country where she was born and grew up, but American is the country where she donates her youth and gave birth to her two children. For her, both of the countries are important and they have already become equal in her heart.
As their children ----Gogol and his sister grow up, the cultural conflict becomes intense. There is a short chapter when Gogol comes back from school and complains about his name to his parents. He calls his parents “guys.” Ashima is unsatisfied with his behavior and she says, “Sometimes, I feel like I have given...