The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Gogol has graduated both from Yale and from the architecture program at Columbia University. In 1994 Gogol works for a big architectural firm in New York City and has a studio apartment there. Gogol's work is entry level, but he knows eventually he will get to be more creative and have more influence on projects. Gogol works constantly, but he is paid very little for his work, according to his parents, who don't understand how expensive it is to live in New York. They want him to go to MIT's program, but he doesn't want to stay so close to home, immersed in his family's life and the Bengali community. Gogol wants a future that is undeniably made by him, not a repeat of his father's life.

One of Gogol's friends at work, Evan, takes Gogol to a party one evening where he meets Maxine Ratliff, a woman who works for a publishing company and is editing a book by an architect whose work Gogol knows. Gogol falls for Maxine immediately, and she calls him the next day to ask him to dinner at her apartment, where she lives with her parents. Gogol comes over and is stunned by Lydia and Gerald Ratliff's wealth and worldliness. They cook him an elaborate meal, which they seem to think is just an everyday one, and Gogol is a little bit in love with all of them. Gogol and Maxine begin to spend so much time together that Gogol rarely goes back to his apartment, and after three months together, Maxine asks him to move in with her. Gogol keeps his apartment for the mailbox, to give his parents the impression he is still living there.

Maxine is surprised by much of Gogol's earlier life and that of his parents, especially their arranged marriage. She is unaccustomed to living in what she sees as a rigidly controlled culture. It occurs to Gogol that he had never perceived his life in this way, and he realizes that there is a line drawn between them, one that will always separate their experiences. He understands there to be a huge difference between the affluence of the Ratliffs and his parents' situation, not just in terms of money, but in terms of life enjoyment. Gogol is not sure he wants to introduce Maxine to his parents, but when his mother calls and asks whether he will be home for his birthday, Gogol has to admit he is seeing Maxine. The couple are going together to the Ratliffs' vacation home in New Hampshire, where Lydia and Gerald have been all summer, for two weeks, and Gogol has to tell his mother about these plans. Ashima tells Gogol about his father's plans to spend nine months in Ohio on a fellowship and leave her behind. She wants Gogol to see his father off. Gogol agrees to bring Maxine to his parents' house for lunch on the way to New Hampshire, and Maxine charms everyone.

Gogol and Maxine head to the house in New Hampshire. Lydia and Gerald have a house on a lake near Hank and Edith, Maxine's grandparents. The life they live during the summer is completely different from their casually opulent life in New York. Dinners are simple and made from local ingredients, no one dresses up, and they play board games and swim. Their lives are almost completely shut off from the world, with news coming from the daily newspaper and a phone that almost never rings. Gogol thinks that his parents could never enjoy a place like this nor understand why anyone would want to grow their own food during the summer and be cut off from their lives in the city. He understands why it is Maxine's favorite place in the world. He wishes he could be in a place like this every year. The only annoying interaction Gogol has occurs when some dinner guests assume he can't get sick in Calcutta because he's Indian. Lydia reminds the guests Gogol is American, but she has to ask him if he was, indeed, born in the United States. Later, Gogol realizes he won't be hearing from his parents because he didn't give them the phone number of the summerhouse. This lack of connection with that part of his life brings Gogol relief.

Analysis

A significant time shift of several years signifies the huge changes Gogol has tried to make for himself and will continue to make. Gogol is now actively trying to separate himself from his family, not only by going to a college that isn't close enough for frequent visits home but by staying in New York City to live and work. By doing so he impoverishes himself financially and needs help paying his bills, but he doesn't want to end up in the same place his father and mother started out, in run-down Central Square, Cambridge. Instead, he is satisfied with a dumpy studio apartment in New York City. However, the similarity between father and son in Gogol's intense focus on his work is clear. Ashoke was the same way with his books and his studies when he was younger. The more Gogol tries to make himself unlike his father, the more like him he becomes.

Gogol also tries to leave his culture completely behind when he ends up being a fixture in the Ratliffs' apartment and eventually just moves in, keeping his apartment for mail and phone messages only. Maxine is the exact opposite of Gogol in looks and in background, with her blonde hair and light eyes, her room full of treasures, and her parents, a relaxed couple with the ease that wealth and security bring. Lydia and Gerald work together to make a meal, and their interaction is a marvel to Gogol. The contrast between the visible intimacy American couples often exhibit and the submerged intimacy that Gogol's parents have is stark. Gogol contrasts everything, from the food and wine to the apartment and the way Maxine and her parents dress and speak, to his parents, and his own family comes up lacking in his mind. Gogol does not understand that his parents are happy with each other, in a way that their culture dictates. They have also never been wealthy, so they don't have the relaxed attitude of people who don't have to think about how much things cost.

Maxine's surprise at the traditions Gogol's family follows sets up the line that will be drawn between Gogol and Maxine regarding not just culture but family attachment. Maxine doesn't understand how Gogol's parents could tolerate an arranged marriage, and the more Gogol listens to her, the more he sees his parents through Maxine's eyes. He doesn't really want Maxine to meet them, but since his father is leaving for Ohio, he has no choice but to go home and say goodbye to Ashoke. Gogol resists going home because he is too comfortable in Maxine's world and doesn't want to be shaken out of it. He also doesn't want to be confronted with more disapproval regarding his love life.

Maxine's ease throughout every aspect of her life allows her to insert herself into Gogol's parents' world and make herself comfortable. Gogol is surprised by how well she gets along with his parents, even though Ashoke and Ashima are a little rattled by her physical affection with them. Maxine seems a perfect fit in any world, even if it isn't her own, but her true feelings about Gogol's parents and culture, which are more judgmental, come out later when the line between her world and Gogol's world becomes an emotional wall.

Gogol feels as if his escape is complete when he goes to New Hampshire. He realizes there is no way his parents can reach him, and he thinks about how his parents could never enjoy a place like the house on the lake. Growing food, living simply, and relaxing are not ways of life Ashoke and Ashima are familiar with in the United States. Gogol doesn't understand emigration from Calcutta meant that when Ashoke and Ashima came to the United States, they had to struggle to create a life for themselves and for their children. The struggle came not just because they started with so little, but because the change was an emotional and physical adjustment for both of them, especially Ashima. Gogol wants the luxury of an escape like the lake house, but he incorrectly and shallowly sees the difference between this life and his parents' life as a deficit of some kind on the part of his parents.

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