Dr. Priya Kumar
M.A. English (Final)
21st April, 2014.
Diaspora as gendered: Lahiri’s The Namesake and The Interpreter of Maladies In the following paper, I will discuss the issue of Diaspora, particularly the way in which it is linked to identity formation and the concept of home. I will use Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and The Interpreter of Maladies to explore this idea further. The focus will be on the way in which the experience of Diaspora is ‘gendered’ and show that their experience is different from the male discourse of Diaspora. Through the course of this paper, I shall explore whether the experience is liberating or limiting for women. Finally, I will discuss the way in which diaspora as a concept is useful to understand that identity is not ‘fixed’ but ‘flexible’.
Robert Cohen in the introduction to his book, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, explains the way in which the term diaspora has acquired greater cultural significance over the years, and is not a term that denotes only the Jewish experience of dislocation and dispersion. He says that it is not only associated with ‘catastrophic origins and their disturbing effects’ (Cohen 1) but also emphasizes its ‘voluntarist component’ (Cohen 21). In the current scenario, it is used as a ‘metaphoric designation’ (Safran 83) and has been
Mehrotra 2 appropriated by different groups of people such as immigrants, refugees, expatriates and exiles and hence has become more inclusive in nature. The diasporic experience is generally believed to entail loss, nostalgia for the ‘homeland’, identity crises and cultural conflicts but now it also associated with ‘dynamism’ (Banerjee 10), multiculturalism and some of these issues are illustrated by Jhumpa Lahiri in her books. However, we should not think of diasporic experience as monolithic since it diverse and varied. It depends on the reason for migration and at the same time, is shaped by factors such as class and gender. It is pertinent to note that the experience should not merely be labelled as either ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ and the interplay between the two should be acknowledged. Cohen asserts that there must be ‘recognition of the positive virtues of retaining a diasporic identity.’ (Cohen 24) It is interesting to note that the experience could be rewarding since it underscores the ‘hybridity’ of identity and I shall discuss this in the following pages. Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, lived in Calcutta for a brief period and then eventually settled in the United States. In an interview, Lahiri says that she writes about people whose lives are characterised by ‘unsettlement’. She refers to her upbringing as ‘hydroponic’ because her ‘roots’ had ‘nowhere to cling to.’ Unlike her parents, she had no place to refer to as home and now, only after several years, can she relate to New England as her home. She also adds that writing gives her a ‘sense of self.’ Since, Lahiri has faced issues that any immigrant has to deal with and her works bring out the experience in its essence for the readers. The Namesake is an important text in this respect because it reconceptualises identity as something that is ‘never complete, always in process, always constituted within.’(Hall 222) Stuart Hall argues that identity is not an entity that transcends space and
Mehrotra 3 time. On the other hand, it is a continuous play of history and culture and hence is ‘constantly reformed.’ (Hall 222) The way in which the characters undergo change in Lahiri’s work bears testimony to this. ‘Naming’ as a metaphor is important in The Namesake and Lahiri employs it to make a larger argument about the nature of identity in the context of diaspora. Gogol’s name is a cause of anxiety to him as he grows older owing to the fact that his name is not linked to his identity and he says, it is, ‘neither...
Cited: Clifford, James. “Diasporas.” Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard. 1997.
Cohen, Robert. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. London: UCL P, 1997. Print.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. New York: First Mariner Books, 2004. Print.
---. The Interpreter of Maladies. New York: First mariner Books, 1999. Print.
Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homeland: Essays and Criticism. London: Granta Books. 1992. Print.
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