himself to Kim as "Gogol," so he says his name is Nikhil. It gives him the confidence to kiss her: "It hadn't been Gogol who had kissed Kim... Gogol had nothing to do with it." The tension between the way things are in the United States and the way things are in India is apparent in the character of Mrs. Jones, the elderly secretary whom Ashoke shares with the other members of his department at the university. She lives alone and sees her children and grandchildren rarely; this is "a life that Ashoke's mother would find humiliating." As the Ganguli children grow up as Americans, their parents give in to certain American traditions. For his fourteenth birthday, Gogol has two celebrations: one that is typically American and one that is Bengali.
8 The language barrier arises as an issue as Gogol and Sonia grow older. Ashima and Ashoke send them to Bengali language and culture classes every other Saturday, but "it never fails to unsettle them, that their children sound just like Americans, expertly conversing in a language that still at times confounds them, in accents they are accustomed not to trust." Ashima feels alienated in the suburbs; this alienation of being a foreigner is compared to "a sort of lifelong pregnancy," because it is "a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts... something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect." Gogol also feels alienated, especially when he realizes that "no one he knows in the world, in Russia or India or America or anywhere, shares his name. Not even the source of his namesake." As Gogol gains consciousness as a child, maturing from infancy, the third person voice begins to favor his point of view. For the first few months in the Ganguli's new home, Gogol plays in the yard; "for the rest of his life he will remember that cold overcast spring, digging in the dirt, collecting rocks, discovering black and yellow salamanders beneath an overturned slab of slate." The theme of the relationship between parents and children becomes prominent, as Gogol grows old enough to interact with his parents as a child. While Ashima is pregnant with Sonia, Gogol and Ashoke eat dinner alone together and Ashoke scolds Gogol for playing with his food. He says, "At your age I ate tin," to draw attention to how grateful Gogol should be for having the food to eat. The relationship between Ashima and Ashoke and
9 their own parents is also mentioned when they find out that their parents have died; Ashoke's parents both die of cancer, and Ashima's mother dies of kidney disease. They learn about these deaths by phone calls. Ashoke decides not to tell Gogol about his near-death experience because he realizes that Gogol is not able to understand it yet. This decision points to the tension between life and death: "Today, his son's birthday, is a day to honor life, not brushes with death. And so, for now, Ashoke decides to keep the explanation of his son's name to himself." The summer before he leaves for college at Yale, Gogol goes to probate court and legally changes his name to Nikhil. When he brought up the idea to his parents, they react
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- Fall '14
- The Red and the Black, Kolkata, Nikolai Gogol, gogol