Gogol as the Perfect Namesake
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake, Indian parents bestow a Russian name to their first born baby boy; the name is Gogol Ganguli which is after the famous Russian writer, Nikolai V. Gogol. In Lahiri’s novel, the main character fights an identity crisis because of his highly unusual name. Gogol carries uncertainty about himself throughout the novel because of his name, “He hates his name . . . that is has nothing to do with who he is, that it is neither Indian nor American but of all things Russian” (Lahiri 76). He constantly thinks the name Gogol does not correlate with his own personality. However, upon exploration of his namesake, a person finds the name Gogol to be the ideal name for him based on the main character Akaky Akakyvitch in Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat; Gogol Ganguli and Akaky Akakyvitch match perfectly because each display a similar identity crisis that originates from their names. At first, it seems that the main character in The Overcoat Akaky Akakyvitch has nothing in common with the bright and handsome Gogol Ganguli of Lahiri’s novel. “One character is set in a Russian nineteenth century short story while the other is a realistic novel about a twentieth century Indian-American family,” that searches for identity in America (Caesar 103). However, The Overcoat, like the novel, pertains to an identity crisis involving names. In The Overcoat “The protagonist name, Akaky Akakyvitch, suggests a contradictory identity itself being a saint’s name and yet sounding like a Russian . . . word for feces,” (Caesar 104). Akaky’s namesake forces him to face an identity crisis; Akaky does not know where he belongs in the Russian world with a name that signifies a saint yet sounds like feces. This contradictory name is similar to Gogol who “hates having constantly to explain [his name]. He hates having to tell people it means nothing in Indian” (Lahiri 76). Both Gogol and Akaky struggle with an identity crisis based on their names because the names oppose themselves and their cultures; one is a contradicting Russian name and the other is a Russian name that means nothing to one Indian-American boy. Thus making Gogol’s namesake perfect for him as a character in Lahiri’s novel because the writer he is named after creates a character that also develops an identity crisis with his name. Another example explaining why Gogol is the perfect namesake for Lahiri’s main character originates from the reasons behind both Gogol Ganguli and Akaky Akakyvitch names. Both are given names based on fate and the person who gives them life. In The Namesake, Gogol receives his name, on the surface, because his grandmother’s letter containing his rightful names gets lost in the mail. But is this a misplacement of Gogol’s names or destiny? His father Ashoke thinks Gogol’s name is fate, “with a slight quiver of recognition, as if he’s known it all along, the perfect pet name for his son occurs to Ashoke . . . ‘Hello, Gogol,’ he whispers,” (Lahiri 34). The lost letter containing Gogol’s names was not an accident but fate. What other name could be more perfect than the name that saved his father’s life; the name that allows Gogol life, and in the words of Nikolai Gogol, “and that to give him any other name was out of the question,” (178). The name Gogol is destiny because it grants his father life and allows Gogol a chance to be born. The idea that Gogol’s name is destiny is set in concrete once given the background behind Nikolai Gogol’s character; the beginnings of Akaky’s name contain similarities to Lahiri’s character. The mother of Akaky, also, possesses a difficult time finding her child the proper name; everyone explores several names, yet nothing fits, “Since that is how it is [nothing fits], he had better be called after his father . . . since that is fate,” (Gogol 172). Akaky’s mother names him after his father, the giver of life. The notion that Gogol is the idyllic namesake for Gogol Ganguli becomes...
Cited: Caesar, Judith. “Gogol’s Namesake: Identity and Relationships in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake.”
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