“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 birth to two strangers.” Ashima is a traditional Hindu woman while her children are deeply influenced by American culture. Their behaviors are totally American which Ashima can’t accept: they are not respectful enough. They talk to their parents as talking to their friends and they laugh on any occasion without considering about other’s feeling. They are just American teenagers, not Asian-American. In this part, acculturation and assimilation have negative effect on Ashima which gives her feeling of unfamiliar to her children sometimes. However, assimilation also has positive influence on Ashima. She’s trying very hard to accept American culture. She finds a job in the library and makes a sincere American friend there. And she learns driving, though she can’t drive very fast. After Ashoke died, she also urges Gogol to make up with Max, his ex-girlfriend, even though she is not Bengali and Ashima doesn’t like her.
When Gogol graduates from high school, the cultural conflict between his father and him becomes much more intense. The scene when Gogol is playing Rock’n’Roll music loudly while cleaning up his room, his father comes in to give him the graduation gift is a proof to show American culture is privileged over the Hindu one. In one scene Gogol plays music so loud that he doesn’t realize his father’s coming in., his father’s coming in bothers his own life space. When Ashoke is talking to him, he turns back and ignores him. And when he gets the book, Gogol’s Overcoat, from his father, he doesn’t open it but puts it aside. And even when Ashoke suggests him to open it, he sighs which shows his impatient with his father. This sigh also shows the conflict between two cultures. The Hindu culture is old school and more educational, while the American one is more self-centered. When Ashoke realized his son’s impatience, he turns off the music and tries to tell him the story hidden behind his name. But he gives up. He realizes that Gogol should find the meaning of his name by himself. Because Gogol is brought up in the American environment and he is deeply influenced by American culture, it would be hard for Gogol to understand the profound meaning at such a young age. Here, the father Ashoke gives in to his American-born son, because he knows it takes time for him to find the meaning through his growth and life experience.
However, the American culture influences Gogol more deeply after he leaves his home for university and work. For several times, Gogol refuses to visit his parents on weekends but stays with his blond girlfriend Max and her family. We can see from these episodes that Gogol feels much more satisfied when stays with American people. The fact that he refuses to visit his parents proves that he avoids accepting Hindu culture. In some extent, Hindu culture is the much more alien to him. Here, we can see that as for Gogol, American culture privileges Indian one, and the acculturation has negative effect on him which makes him drifts apart from his own family.
After his father’s death, Gogol has realized the importance of his family and his original culture. On his father’s funeral, Max shows up in a black dress while all Indians are in white. We can see the cultural conflict between two countries which indicates that Max, as an American, doesn’t belong to them. When Max tells Gogol that she wants to scatter his father’s ashes with him, Gogol says, “It’s my family thing.” He shakes his head and refused, though Max treats him as a family member in American culture. In the previous scenes of this film, we can feel that Gogol is totally American, and he always gives us the feeling that he tends to live an American life rather than a Hindu one. However, after his father’s death, he becomes more Hindu. While he seems be deeply influenced by American culture, he is in fact, also unconsciously influenced by Hindu culture which derives from his family bond. Obviously, in this scene, Indian culture overwhelms American culture again.
At the end of the book , Gogol starts accepting Hindu culture. He marries a Bengali woman who stays in Paris for a very long time. They hold their wedding in a hotel filled with Indians dressed up in traditional ways. When the new couple stays in the hotel room without the “supervision” of their parents, their behaviors is totally western. The woman teases Gogol openly and they embrace each other on the bed. This marriage successfully satisfies both Gogol and his mother. For Gogol, he wants to marry a western style woman who acts as the real westerner rather than as him mom: speaks poor English and still dressed in Hindu dresses, and for his mother, she wants him to marry a Bengali woman. However, this Bengali woman is much more western than Gogol expects. She is deeply influenced by France culture and almost lost all the Hindu tradition. She refuses to change her family name into Gogol’s. And she has a love affair after she marries Gogol because she doesn’t want to be like her mother-a traditional Hindu woman. Here, it’s hard to say whether western culture privileges over Hindu culture or Hindu culture privileges over western one. But, it’s obvious that there’s also cultural diversity in western culture, even in the same race. As the Bengali woman says “Maybe it’s not enough that we are both Bengali.” Though Gogol and the Bengali woman both grow up in Western culture, Gogol is influenced by Hindu culture since he’s very young, especially the death of his father gives him big shock and let his realize the importance of his family and his original culture, however, the Bengali woman, growing up in European culture, has already abandoned Hindu culture. Two Bengalis, growing up in different western environment, also have culture conflict.
According to Mukherjee, “Hindu tradition forbade intercaste, interlanguage, interethnic marriages,” (“American Dreamer”). We can see this tradition in many parts of the book, for example Gogol is told by his mother’s female friend that in Yale, he can have as many as western girlfriends he wants, but he should marry a Bengali woman. However, at almost the last part of the film, Ashima changes her old concept that Bengali should marry another Bengali and she agrees her daughter to have an American boyfriend. Finally, there’s a white guy appears in their family party. This change of Ashima shows the positive influence of acculturation and assimilation which makes her pays more attention to the true love in a marriage rather than the race.
“I am an American, not an Asian-American”, said by Mukherjee in “American Dreamer.” Because she thinks, “it is really a demand that America deliver the promises of its dream to all its citizens equally.” However, as for the author, I think she tends to declare that she’s an Asian-American. The purpose of her book is not only to show the culture conflicts in the immigrants’ families, but also to show the beautiful Hindu culture and tradition. As a reader ,I can strongly sense that the cultural diversity can deeply influence one's live ,and " How to adjust the different culture and make your choice"has becoming a new world discussion today.