The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Gogol's Birth

The Namesake begins in 1968 with the Gangulis' married life; the Gangulis are living in their first apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both have immigrated to the United States from Calcutta, India. Ashima and Ashoke, who were married by arrangement in India, move to the United States so Ashoke can go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to earn a PhD in electrical engineering. Ashima, who is very unhappy with the move because she misses her family in India and still feels as if she and her husband don't really know each other yet, is pregnant with their first child.

Ashima gives birth to a baby boy at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. She and Ashoke give the boy a pet name, Gogol, after Ashoke's favorite author, Nikolai Gogol, whose story "The Overcoat" saved Ashoke from dying in a train wreck earlier in India. Ashoke had a page of the story, which he had been reading, in his hand, and the dropped page alerted rescuers he was still alive. Ashoke's miraculous survival is what prompts him to travel abroad after his recovery. Prior to the wreck, a man named Ghosh, who died in the wreck, encouraged Ashoke to see the world. Gogol's nickname is supposed to be replaced, as is Bengali tradition, with a "good name," his official name, when Ashima's grandmother mails them her name selection. However, her grandmother has a stroke and is unable to communicate, and the letter is lost in the mail. The hospital needs an official name, so Ashima and Ashoke put "Gogol" on the birth certificate.

Gogol's birth gives Ashima a purpose and a way to become comfortable in her surroundings. She takes him everywhere with her, finally venturing into the world to shop for food, take walks, and interact with people in the neighborhood. Ashoke and Ashima plan to visit family back in Calcutta so they can introduce Gogol, but Ashima's father dies from a heart attack. The trip becomes a journey home for funeral duties.

Gogol's Education

Ashoke becomes a professor of electrical engineering at a local university in a suburb of Boston and moves his family there, to a house on Pemberton Road. The move is difficult for Ashima, partly because she leaves her friends in Cambridge for a neighborhood where people don't really speak with one another often. It is also difficult because now much of her time during the day is her own, as Gogol has begun kindergarten. Ashoke and Ashima want him to use the "good name" Nikhil. The principal of his kindergarten speaks with Gogol after his father has left and asks what he wants to be called. Gogol stays Gogol at school because Nikhil is a name he can't see attached to himself. The Gangulis have another baby, Sonali, nicknamed Sonia, to whom Gogol becomes close. The children begin to connect with others at school, and Sonia, in particular, becomes very American in her tastes. The family starts to adopt American traditions and activities, including clothing, holidays, and some American foods. However, Ashima continues to wear her saris—traditional garments consisting of one piece of fabric that is draped to form a style of dress—and cook mostly Indian food at home, though she makes compromises for her husband and children.

Gogol's name embarrasses him as he gets older because it is Russian, not Indian. His English teacher in high school talks about his namesake, Nikolai Gogol, and Gogol is mortified because the author Gogol had such a depressing life. When Gogol turns 14, his father almost divulges why he named his son after the author, but he keeps that information to himself and simply gives a copy of Gogol's stories to his son. Gogol puts it away and doesn't read it. When Gogol graduates from high school and goes to Yale, he decides to go to court to change his name officially to Nikhil, freeing himself from the legacy of the name in public. His family still calls him Gogol, though, and his father finally tells him about his namesake and the train accident.

Gogol's Romances

Gogol meets a girl named Ruth at college and dates her for a year. However, their intense physical relationship can't overcome their differences, and her study abroad at Oxford causes them to grow apart. Gogol graduates with a degree in architecture and attends graduate school at Columbia. Gogol's next girlfriend, Maxine Ratliff, is a wealthy New Yorker he meets while he's working at an architectural firm in New York City. She and her parents live together in a luxury apartment, and she invites him to move in with her. Gogol takes her home to meet his parents, and he is invited by her parents to spend time at their vacation home in New Hampshire. Gogol longs to have an easy life as they do, in contrast to that of his parents and all their hard work.

Ashoke decides to take a temporary position in Ohio at another university, but he doesn't want to move his family there, so he comes home every few weeks to help Ashima with the house. While he is away, he develops stomach problems, which he ignores. He ends up going to the hospital. When Ashima calls the hospital to check on him, an employee informs her that Ashoke had a heart attack and passed away. Gogol and Sonia drop everything to help their mother. Sonia stays with Ashima while Gogol cleans out his father's Ohio apartment.

Gogol alienates Maxine with his family-centered behavior, and they break up. Gogol begins to spend more time with Ashima and Sonia, and his mother convinces him to go on a blind date with Moushumi, a girl he had met at his 14th birthday party. Moushumi lives in New York, as well, and studies French literature as a PhD student. Gogol and Moushumi discover they feel comfortable with the familiarity of being with another Bengali, and they fall in love and get married. The wedding is a huge Bengali affair run entirely by Moushumi's parents. However, the marriage begins to sour when Moushumi makes Gogol spend time with her intellectual friends, who make him uncomfortable. She begins to feel restless, wanting to study in France, where Gogol doesn't fit in with her colleagues. Bored with her life with Gogol, she starts having an affair with Dimitri, an old crush of hers. Gogol finds out about the affair, and they divorce.

Gogol's Return

Gogol changes architectural firms so he can be more creative with his work, and he comes home for Christmas, to celebrate his mother's final holiday in the Pemberton Road house. Ashima has decided to sell the house and live part time with Sonia and her husband-to-be, Ben, in Boston. She wants to spend half of each year in Calcutta so she can maintain her ties with family. While Gogol is at the party, he enters his old bedroom and finds the book of Nikolai Gogol's stories, the gift from his father. He sees his father's inscription in the book and realizes not only how much his father loved the author's stories, but also how much his father loved him. At the end of the novel, Gogol starts to read "The Overcoat" to connect with his father's memory.

The Namesake Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 A page from Gogol saves Ashoke during a train crash.

Rising Action

2 Ashoke and Ashima marry and move to the United States.

3 Gogol is born, and Ashoke names him after Nikolai Gogol.

4 The Gangulis move to Pemberton Road, and Sonia is born.

5 Ashoke gives Gogol a volume of Nikolai Gogol's stories.

6 The Gangulis spend eight months in India.

7 Gogol begins using the name Nikhil, making the change legal.

8 Gogol meets Ruth at Yale, and they date for one year.

9 Ashoke tells Gogol the train story—the origin of his name.

10 Gogol graduates from Columbia and moves in with Maxine.


11 Ashoke goes to Ohio to work, where he dies.

Falling Action

12 Gogol and Sonia stay with Ashima, and Gogol leaves Maxine.

13 Gogol and Moushumi fall in love and get married.

14 Moushumi has an affair, Gogol finds out, and they divorce.


15 Gogol finds Nikolai Gogol's book and reads the inscription.

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