The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

A year after Moushumi and Gogol are married, 1999, Moushumi has passed her exams for her PhD and has won a fellowship to go to Paris for a year to study. However, she realizes she can't expect Gogol to move with her, and she secretly declines the scholarship. Moushumi and Gogol go out to celebrate their first wedding anniversary at a restaurant Moushumi's friends Donald and Astrid recommended to them, but everything about the restaurant is disappointing, from the food to the atmosphere, and Gogol doesn't seem to notice Moushumi is wearing a dress from their early, more romantic days. For Moushumi, her marriage feels more and more like the life she had tried to avoid.

Moushumi starts teaching at NYU three days per week. One day she is devastated to learn the secretary of the department, Alice, passed away on the job. In looking through the unsorted mail of the department that day, she discovers a letter with the name Dimitri Desjardins on it, along with an address for him. Dimitri has sent in an application to teach German literature in her department. Moushumi quietly copies down the address. She remembers Dimitri from her time in Princeton, New Jersey, where they interacted on a bus to a protest march. At the time they flirted, and she was sure an affair would ensue, but Dimitri was significantly older than she was and nothing came of it. Now, realizing that she is unhappy in her marriage, she thinks about contacting Dimitri. When she goes home, she finds a volume of French author Stendhal's The Red and The Black, inscribed to her by Dimitri with his nickname for her, "Mouse."

Moushumi contacts Dimitri, who remembers her immediately, and they begin an affair. Every afternoon after Moushumi's classes, she goes to Dimitri's apartment to have sex with him. She loves discussing literature with him, a topic she and Gogol don't have in common. Even though Dimitri's apartment is filled with books like her own apartment, he is a far cry from her husband. She is drawn to Dimitri's European sophistication and keeps seeing him. Her duplicity makes her emotionally distant from Gogol.

Analysis

Moushumi's perspective reveals her dishonesty and its origins, giving depth to the plot and to Moushumi as a character. The use of contrasting perspectives is a technique Lahiri uses throughout the novel to improve characterization. For example, Gogol couldn't bear to be part of an infidelity in an earlier relationship, and now Moushumi is cheating on him. Moushumi's observations regarding Dimitri's apartment show he's a slob she doesn't connect with except to have sex and talk about books. However, Moushumi's inability to stop cheating even though the relationship isn't good for her is indicative of a desperate attempt to sabotage her relationship with Gogol. Moushumi feels as if she needs to do something drastic to gain back the freedom to pursue a life in Paris. Stendhal's The Red and the Black reflects Moushumi's situation. It is the story of a man's attempt to break out of his social situation, but his failed sexual relationships lead to his death sentence. In Moushumi's case she is using a sexual relationship to bring about the death of her marriage.

Moushumi makes a weak attempt to regenerate her romance with Gogol, but he doesn't remember the dress she is wearing from their earlier days of dating. She is disappointed that Gogol doesn't seem to pay attention to details about her—just as she remembered everything about him and he remembered almost nothing about her from their first meeting. Gogol is wrapped up in his own day-to-day life and doesn't make an effort to connect with Moushumi through close attention to her. Although Moushumi is the one trying to destroy the relationship, Gogol has probably inadvertently contributed to its failure as well.

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