Struggle for CulturalIdentity Gogol Name Identity Crisis
No one exists as Island everyoneis born of a particular culture. People live in societies that haveset of standards, principles, morals, norms, environment andtraditions that define their culture. Different communities havedifferent, and varying cultures based on their racial or tribalcultural and traditional attributes, normative and environmentalaspects that define their unique. However, no one is born withculture, it is bestowed and socialized to an individual immediatelyafter birth as such individuals learn or are ascribed to certainaspects their culture by family or the community. Culture is notstatic, and certain aspects can be changed, however, certain aspectsof one’s culture form the core of one’s identity such asethnicity, generation, gender and sexual orientation.
Culture forms an important aspectin one’s life, attitude, values and beliefs as such, there existgreat variations within and beyond one’s culture. Therefore, whenone change from one culture to the other, the new environment appearsdifferent, weird and often confusing one is said to suffer from‘culture shock.’ Everything from food, interpersonalcommunication, lifestyle, behavior, eating habits, ceremonies anddressing becomes alien to an individual. Adjusting to a new culturemakes a person feel ‘out of space,’ distressed, doubtful, anxiousand just plain confused. Negative feelings develop in differentsituations and times as individuals tries to adjust to the newenvironment. In the novel ‘TheNamesake by Jhumpa Lahiri,’such were Ashumis predicament, when she flew to the United Statesfrom Calcutta India. Inthe novel there are many cases of cultural identity struggles, butnothing could explain better the feeling of cultural disorientationthan Gogol’s struggle for name identity in his romanticrelationships and social life in America.
Gogol struggle with NameIdentity in the Novel, ‘TheNamesake Assignment Sheet’
In the novel, Ashima- an Indianlady by culture, has been living in the American multiculturalsociety for some time and has never been immersed in it or change heridentity. She has a strong Indian cultural identity as illustrated inher dealing with life as an Indian widower in the American culture(Jhumpa,2003:2). She maintains strong Indian customs and traditions in largeand small ways as she brings up her son Gogol the novel illustrateshow she continues to wear Indian attires, and her mode of mourningher dead husband is in accordance to Indian customs. Although shelives in the Indian community, she fully participates in the Americansociety and understands it she does not want to embrace the Americanlifestyle. Nonetheless, she comes to understand and accept herchildren adaptation to the American culture and in some way getinfluenced to the new multicultural identity (Jhumpa,2003:37).
After his birth, his fatherAshoke named his son ‘Gogol’ in reference to his adored Russianwriter. Although Ashoke tries to explain to his son the origin ofhis name, Gogol is too young and uninterested. His confusion anddistaste for his names begins when he is in Kindergarten. InChapter 2, the theme of name identity problem is illustrated. According to Bengali traditions, a child is given a pet name whilewaiting ‘good’ name from their grandmother. In this case, Ashokeand Ashumi get a pet name for their son, ‘Gogol.’ Gogol ends uphaving two names, at home they call him ‘Gogol’ while in school,his mother introduced him as ‘Nikhil.’
However,the ‘good’ name never comes and Gogol becomes the ‘good’name. The narrator illustrates this by saying, ‘Not only does Gogolhave a pet name turned to a good name, but the last name turned firstname,’ (Jhumpa,2003:26).His mother had alsonamed him ‘Nikhil’ a name he did not like. He did not want a newname or be named after a person he did not know.It is through this name identity crisis that adds to the boy’sconfusion he gets stuck on whom he is, "He is afraid to beNikhil, someone he doesn`t know. Who doesn`t know him"(Jhumpa,2003:19). The narrator writes that, while in kindergarten Gogol hadtried to change his name to a formal name but did not succeed.
While home Gogol does not feeloffended by his as he is at School. At school he finds himselfanswering silly questions about the meaning of his name like whenasked, ‘what does it mean in Indian?’ He replies, ‘Come onguys, Gogol does not mean anything in Indian it is Russian,’(Jhumpa,2003:9). In the midst of rich white friends in Schools who constantlytorments him with the meaning of his name, Gogol thus feels ashamedof his identity.
As Gogol grows up, he realizesthat his name is unusual, and he does not like it. He is annoyed byhis parents and everyone around him for calling him a name he doesnot like. He has thus been confused about his two names. This isevident while in School and during his romantic relationships, hewants to be known as Nikhil and not Gogol. Although, according tothe Bengali traditions, pet names are reserved for loved ones, Gogoldoes not follow this tradition and goes ahead to introduce himself asNikhil to his girlfriends. In this case, one cannot refrain fromwondering why he denies his pet name ‘Gogol’ this shows thatGogol is confused about his name identity.
It is interesting how Gogolthinks that by changing his names he would be a different personalthough he is called by different names, his identity remains thesame. However, from the narration, the name ‘Nikhil’ gives himmore confidence especially among the ladies For instance at a partyin School, he fails to introduce himself as ‘Gogol,’ to a girlnamed Kim. To suffice his ego and confidence he introduces himself as‘Nikhil’ and kisses her. This is evident on how the writer putsit, "It had not been Gogol who had kissed Kim… Gogol hadnothing to do with it" (Jhumpa,2003:78). In another case, the narrator says, ‘it is as Nikhil thathe loses his virginity while at a party in Ezra Stile…’"(Jhumpa,2003:19). Surprisingly, none of these ladies knows Gogol nameidentity crisis. In fact, many mistakes his race or origin, forinstance, while socializing with the Ratliff, a lady named Lydiaremarked, ‘You could be an Italian,’ (Jhumpa,2003:19). Although he fancies interacting with the Ratliff, they donot know his identity, to them he appears Italian and do not knowanything about his Bengali culture.
As a way of reinventing hisidentity, after college, Gogol goes to court and changes his name toNikhil before going to Yale. At college in Yale, he introduceshimself as ‘Nikhil’ even to his girlfriend Ruth. In New York,while working as an architect, he meets Maxine Ratliff whom sheintroduces himself as Nikhil. In these scenarios, it is evident thatGogol is struggling with a name and cultural identity. He has not yetdecided identity as in between the American and the Indian cultures.His parents did not help the matter by giving him alien names ofdifferent cultures. In particular, this comes out clearly afterbefriending Maxine at New York. As their friendship with Maxineblossoms, he moves in with the family to the point of forgetting hisreal home and family but he does not tell them his real name, ‘Gogol’they all know him by the name ‘Nikhil’ (Jhumpa,2003:77).
After a year and after his fatherdies, he breaks up with Maxine and her mother influence him to callMoushumi, a cultural tie to Gogol. Moushumi knows Gogol as ‘Gogol’and as such, she is surprised by Gogol when she introduces herself as‘Nikhil,’ "the first time he has been out with a woman who`donce known him by that other name” (Jhumpa,2003:57). In this context, Gogol comes to like the familiarity hisname identity creates between them Moushumi calls him, by the name‘Nikhil.’ This strengthens their relationship in regard toBengali identity and how they confuse the Americans, "They talkabout how they are both routinely assumed to be Greek, Egyptian, andMexican – even in this rendering they are joined” (Jhumpa,2003:65). This newfound bond between them makes them happy that eventheir parents will appreciate their relationship. In Chapter nine, ata guests dinner, while discussing the oddity of the baby’s name‘Astrid,’ Moushumi reveals that even Nikhil was not named Nikhil(Jhumpa,2003:97). This makes Gogol is angry about his wife for revealing suchsensitive detail to people he loathes (Jhumpa,2003:101).
As the narrator describes, Ashoketries to help his son name identity crisis but it is only after thefather dies that Gogol begins to think over the matter. Afterdivorcing with Moushumi and having no one to call him Nikhil herealizes the name Gogol was important, and the ‘Nikhil’ name wasjust a bad name. Gogol begins reading the story by Gogol Nikolai atthe end of the story to illustrate how sorrier he feels for not beingrealistic with his ‘Gogol’ name which his father had tried tomake him believe.
Indeed this is an interestingstory in which the author has interwoven the element of culture inthe whole prose. The element of culture conflict and search for nameidentity is well relayed on what happening throughout the story.Through the character of Gogol, his parents and his numerousrelationships, the writer exposes the element of identity conflictbetween the two cultures. In particular, Gogol relationship withMaxine, Moushumi and her mother vividly illustrate this, his searchfor identity. On numerous occasions, Gogol changes his name to Nikhilin order to win the hearts of his girlfriends he used a trick tokiss Kim at college and influenced his relationship with Moushumi.After his divorce with Mushoumi and the death of his father that,Gogol realizes that he was wrong on the name crisis he should havestuck to Gogol all through. This is evident when he gets interestedin reading the story on Nikolai Gogol novel, that his father hadgiven him.
JhumpaLahiri,‘The Namesake,’Boston New York: First Mariner Books edition, 2003.