The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Course Hero, "The Namesake Study Guide," April 5, 2019, accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Namesake/.

The Namesake | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Ashima, who at this point is living mostly alone on Pemberton Road, has developed a life at age 48 that she never would have imagined. She has a part-time job at the library, which allows her to connect to other women her age. She has learned to fend for herself around the house, and she doesn't have to cook elaborate meals for anyone. She begins to enjoy having time to herself, though she also looks forward to Ashoke's visits, which occur every three weeks. Ashima still doesn't do yard work or handle household bills; she leaves those duties to Ashoke when he is home. She and Ashoke have spent Thanksgiving this year alone, which her friends insist is normal with adult children, and she is looking forward to Christmas with the whole family.

Ashoke calls that night, interrupting Ashima's work of addressing the family's Christmas cards. He tells Ashima he has checked into a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, because he is having stomach pain. Ashoke is sure the pain is nothing serious, and he reassures her he will be out soon. In the early morning Ashima calls Ashoke's apartment, but no one answers. She calls the hospital, and when someone finally gets on the phone to speak to her, she asks about her husband, who has a stomach problem and should have checked out by now. The person on the phone tells Ashima they have been trying to reach her and that Ashoke has died of a heart attack. Ashima is in shock.

Sonia comes home to stay with Ashima, and Gogol goes to Cleveland the next morning to identify Ashoke's body at the hospital and clear out his apartment. Gogol had been out with Maxine the night before, and when he and Maxine got home, Sonia called and gave him the sad news. When Gogol arrives at the hospital, he is taken to identify his father, and he feels as if he should be waking Ashoke instead. Gogol drives his father's rental car to the apartment, and there is not much that personalizes the place, apart from a photo on the refrigerator of the family. Ashima has told Gogol not to bring anything home, so Gogol has to get rid of everything in the apartment, and he makes calls to shut off utilities. He tries to call home, but he is told that his mother and sister have gone to sleep. He realizes their house is full of people taking care of Sonia and Ashima, whereas the apartment is silent. He calls Maxine, who tells him she should have been with him and tries to make him promise to get a room in a hotel. Gogol is annoyed at being told by her to leave his father's apartment and ends up sleeping there. He keeps thinking about his father's last moments there, not knowing he would soon be dead. He remembers his father shaving his head when his grandfather died, not understanding the significance of the tradition.

When Gogol arrives at Pemberton Road, he and the family are surrounded by friends every day. They eat a "mourner's diet," which is vegetarian, for 10 days. The meals bring the three Gangulis together. On the 11th day they have a feast for friends, with an elaborate spread of Indian dishes. Maxine arrives, but Gogol doesn't bother to introduce her or help her understand Bengali. She tells him he and his sister "can't stay with [their] mother forever." She thinks Gogol needs to get away "from all this," but Gogol tells her, "I don't want to get away." Gogol ends up staying for a month, visiting friends with his mother and sister. His mother speculates that Ashoke must have gone to Ohio to teach her to live by herself. When Gogol goes back to New York by train, he remembers a trip to Cape Cod with his parents, his father leading him across a breakwater. His father said to him that they "went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go," and without a photograph to capture the moment, Gogol must remember it.

Analysis

Ashima, now alone, has finally adapted to her American life. With each move toward independence, she becomes a little braver and a little happier. Ashima reflects on the length of time it took to lose her sadness and to gain love for Ashoke. These thoughts show the trajectory of Ashima's life as an immigrant. Her cultural traditions are still a part of her life, though, because they are an integral part of her identity as a Bengali woman. Ashima and Ashoke have transformed their lives into a mix of Bengali culture and American culture that has made their children's' lives comfortable. Ashima's point of view reveals just how much change immigrants are confronted with and how they create entirely new lives for themselves by blending traditions.

The terrible way Ashima learns of Ashoke's death is indicative of the insensitivity of Americans and some medical professionals. The woman from the hospital uses the word expired to refer to Ashoke's death, and Ashima is familiar with the word only in terms of the library books she reshelves. It takes a moment for her to understand what has happened, and no one explains anything to her in any detail. The word choice reveals the lack of humanity demonstrated toward Ashima, who remains isolated in her new life.

Gogol's point of view reveals the distance that has developed between him and his family as he is embarrassed about his mother calling and then Sonia having to call later. However, Gogol leaves the next morning to go to Cleveland and do the impossibly difficult work of identifying his father's body and cleaning out the apartment. Suddenly, Gogol is as close as he can get to his father, but it is too late. Gogol's decision to stay in the apartment and his visions of his father in the apartment the day of his death reflect his desperate sadness and his need to grieve the loss of a father he now realizes had devoted his whole life to making the family's life better.

The bleakness and lack of personalization in the apartment reveals that Ashoke's true connection is to his family. Working away from his wife is not something he was ever comfortable doing. Ashoke's one nod to life at home is the photograph on the refrigerator. If Ashoke had been a person who wanted to make a life apart from his family, the apartment would have felt more homelike, but it just feels like a hotel suite with few personal belongings. Still, Gogol can feel his father there in the fastidious cleanliness of the place and the items that are so familiar to him in relation to his father, right down to the cold cream Ashoke used as aftershave. These personal details not only illustrate Gogol's knowledge of and closeness with his father but give the reader a sense of the emotional bleakness of the scene and Gogol's feeling of numb shock.

Food again plays a part in an important, albeit sad, milestone in a family's life: the death of a loved one. The vegetarian diet is comforting to Gogol, his mother, and his sister because it reflects their emotions. At a time when they can hardly do anything else, they are hungry for tradition. Sonia and Gogol, who have been running away from their heritage their whole lives, come back to it for their mother, and they, too, are comforted by a culture that is inherently theirs, thanks to their parents' devotion to making it so.

Another relationship is about to end for Gogol as well. Maxine, who had seemed so comfortable with his parents, thinks he needs to get away from his family. She doesn't understand the inappropriateness of this sentiment. Maxine's obliviousness shows her self-centered and shallower, privileged desire to have Gogol go on as if nothing has happened, revealing that the relationship is doomed to failure. For the first time in his life, Gogol doesn't want to leave home.

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