The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

Ashima prepares her famous mincemeat croquettes and reminisces about her husband and her children, the Christmas celebrations over the years, and her departure from Pemberton Road. The house has been sold, and this is the first time she will have a Christmas party here since Ashoke's death. It will also be the last party, as she is leaving for India after this Christmas in the year 2000. Ashima has stripped down her possessions to almost as little as she came with in 1967, the winter she arrived in Cambridge and began living with her husband. Ashima thinks about her resistance to the enjoyment of the new life they made together. She thinks that her children have very different relationships from the one she had with Ashoke. Her children fell in love first and then married (Sonia is engaged to Ben), but she and Ashoke fell in love as they got to know each other in their marriage. Ashima also thinks about what it will feel like to not have her own home. She will be living with her brother, Rana, and his family, in a flat in Calcutta for half of the year, and she will spend the rest of the time visiting Sonia, Gogol, and her friends in Massachusetts. She wishes Ashoke could have held on long enough to enact this retirement plan with her, and for a moment, she feels terribly alone without him. She gets ready for her Christmas party, thinking about how she will hear her children arrive soon. The house will be full of guests for the last time.

Sonia picks up Gogol at the train station to take him to Pemberton Road, calling him "Goggles," her childhood nickname for him. When Gogol arrives at the house, he goes to his room, where he is to decide what he wants to keep, tossing or giving away the rest. He thinks about his discovery of Moushumi's affair on a train ride at this time a year ago. They were talking about whether to vacation in Siena in a rental with Donald and Astrid, which he did not want to do, and Moushumi mentioned that Dimitri thought Siena was a wonderful place. This began the release of the truth. The story came out as Gogol and Moushumi forced themselves through the weekend at Pemberton Road, telling no one of their conflict. Moushumi left after Christmas Day, packing only her necessities and leaving the rest for Gogol. Gogol still can't believe he is in his early 30s and divorced.

Gogol also thinks about how he and Moushumi jumped at the chance to reconnect with their culture through each other, when neither of them had wanted to be connected with it before. Gogol realizes his parents were strangers in the United States, at first to themselves and then to the culture, which they navigated for their children. Gogol understands how hard his parents worked to bridge the gap between life in the United States and their Bengali traditions. Gogol's solitary life now makes him think of his parents' loneliness without their families. Gogol still relies on his family connection, but now that his mother will be gone half of the year, he won't have a reason to come back to Pemberton Road, a thought that makes him feel lost.

As the story ends, Gogol roots through a box of books his mother has left for him to sort and discovers the volume of Nikolai Gogol's short stories with his father's inscription inside. Gogol realizes that when his mother leaves, he will no longer see all of the people who are downstairs in the house celebrating with one another, people whose children he doesn't even know anymore. His ties to the Bengali community will be reduced significantly, and there won't be anyone but Sonia to remember that he was once Gogol. Gogol thinks about how his life feels like a series of accidents: his father's train wreck, the lost letter and the accidental naming, his inability to totally reinvent himself as Nikhil, and the mistake of marrying Moushumi. The worst accident was losing his father. Gogol realizes, however, that these unexpected events have made him who he is. He has spent his life trying to adapt, just as his parents did with their lives. Gogol begins to read "The Overcoat," but his mother comes upstairs to remind him he needs to be downstairs taking pictures. Gogol will join the crowd later, eat with everyone, and share stories, but for now, he continues to read, connecting with his father in a way he has rejected until now.

Analysis

The time shifts ahead a few years to Ashima's perspective. Ashima reflects on her relationship with her husband and her children. She thinks of all Pemberton Road has been for her and her family and all of the adjustments to living in the United States she made there to develop a life for herself and her children. The house on Pemberton Road has been a safe place for everyone in the family; the terrible things that have happened in everyone's lives have happened elsewhere. This is the last party she will throw in this place to which she has given so much of herself. Ashima's reflections show the emotional depth of this experience of leaving her home and starting over again elsewhere, without a real home base.

The perspective shift to Gogol reveals the discovery of Moushumi's affair and its effects, a year later. The shift in time allows the reader to understand not just the events but the emotional impact through time on the characters involved. Gogol has been divorced for several months and now has to come to terms with life on his own again, separate from his parents. This time, however, it is not out of choice. Ashima will no longer be at Pemberton Road for him to visit, and his father is gone. This time Gogol must truly build a new life for himself.

The importance of Gogol's name resurfaces, and it is the central theme of the novel—the connection between the name and Gogol's relationship with his culture, his family, and—in particular—his father. The symbolic volume of Nikolai Gogol's stories resurfaces as well, and this time Gogol decides to read the story, "The Overcoat," bringing him closer to the memory of his father. The volume, a gift from Ashoke with an inscription referring to Gogol's naming, brings together all of the symbols and themes of the novel. Gogol realizes that his culture, his father, and even his pet name are precious to him, and he wants to find a way to keep all of them close to his heart. It also sparks the realization that his parents were in an unbelievably lonely place when they first came to the United States, and his loneliness is nothing compared to theirs. His parents made sure that he had a community around him and a close family life that included both American and Bengali cultures. Gogol finally appreciates what his parents went through, what they gave to him, and what he takes with him going forward. The book of stories is his connection to all of these things, and it foreshadows the possibility of a future of self-discovery and creativity.

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