The Namesake | Study Guide

Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake | Quotes


Pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can.

Ghosh, Chapter 1

Ghosh understands that Ashoke is a serious young man on the verge of heading into the life expected of him by his parents and his community. Knowing that once that life begins, a traditional Bengali man is unlikely to turn back and change it, Ghosh encourages Ashoke to broaden his horizons and use travel to become a more well-rounded, spontaneous person who can enjoy life.


Instead of thanking God he thanks Gogol, the Russian writer who had saved his life.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Nikolai Gogol's stories, especially "The Overcoat," are central to Ashoke's ability to continue living and experience all the gifts life has to offer. Ashoke realizes that if not for the page of Nikolai Gogol's story in his hand, he would not be in the United States at MIT, much less married and having a child. Everything he has is a gift that, if he were religious, would be viewed as a gift from God, but Ashoke is an atheist. As he thinks back to his near death and recovery in the hospital, he is thankful, seeing it as a kind of rebirth experience similar to becoming a new father.


For the first time he thinks of that moment not with terror, but with gratitude.

Narrator, Chapter 2

Ashoke has been tormented by memories of his near-death experience, but the choice of Gogol as a pet name for his son represents both the miracle of Gogol's birth and the miracle of Ashoke's survival.


He is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn't know.

Narrator, Chapter 3

The pressure to conform to a Bengali tradition in a place where no one has this tradition confuses Gogol. Gogol has been brought up in the United States and called Gogol by everyone. Now, a tradition he doesn't understand demands of him that he become, in his mind, a different person. Gogol's resistance to being called Nikhil represents his resistance to traditional Bengali values, a desire to fit in, and a need to be his own person.


This one ... this one is the true American.

Bengali party guest, Chapter 3

Sonia is the child for whom the family begins to change its traditions, notably with her pet name and nickname being the same. Her actions at the rice ceremony represent the shift to being American rather than fully Bengali. With this line, the Bengali guest reveals what it is to be an American: to have property and money or desire upward mobility.


It is neither Indian nor American but of all things Russian.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Even though Gogol chooses not to be called Nikhil in school early on, he hates his name now. He finds it ill-suited for his identity as a Bengali American. It also represents his father's desires rather than his own, which makes him feel as if he can't control his own identity or destiny.


I hate the name Gogol ... I've always hated it.

Gogol, Chapter 5

Gogol admits something to the judge when he changes his name that he is unwilling to admit to his parents. He lies to his parents about his real motive, showing a reluctance to make his parents feel bad about naming him after an author important to his father. This struggle represents the need to balance an American identity with a Bengali one.


You remind me of everything that followed.

Ashoke, Chapter 5

Ashoke expresses the gratitude he has for his life in the United States and his gratitude for his son's presence in his life. The name "Gogol" doesn't bring back the horror of the train wreck anymore. To Ashoke it is a symbol of rebirth and joy.


He is aware that a line has been drawn all the same.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Many white people, like Maxine, have a misunderstanding of Indian cultures and traditions. There is also a huge difference between white American lives and the lives of traditional Bengalis. The inability to understand how Gogol's identity has a foot in both American culture and that of Calcutta will always divide Gogol, a child of immigrants, from Maxine. In this instance they cannot remain a couple because she demands too much of him by expecting him to change to her more traditional American ways.


Here at Maxine's side, in this cloistered wilderness, he is free.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Gogol desires to shed himself of the traditions and expectations his parents have of him, especially those that are foreign to people like Maxine, who can do what they want without consequence, according to Gogol.


This meatless meal is the only thing that seems to make sense.

Narrator, Chapter 7

Bengali traditions are integral for the Gangulis, no matter how American they have tried to become. These traditions help them process familial joy and loss. In grief it is the Bengali tradition that works for the family and brings them together.


We went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.

Ashoke, Chapter 7

Gogol holds this memory of the love his father showed him as he walked with him on Cape Cod, out to a point on the beach. His father wanted him to remember what was only possible between father and son, the passing on of gratitude. Gogol remembers not only the gratitude, but also the strength of his father's love, even if he did not show it outright. It also represents Ashoke's move to the United States with Ashima and their life on Pemberton Road, far away from their roots.


The new invitation, designed by Ashima ... is the only thing that isn't a leftover.

Narrator, Chapter 9

There is tension between Gogol and Moushumi, who has not completely let go of her love for Graham, who left her just before they were to be married. Gogol feels that Moushumi sees him as a substitute and a consolation, something familiar to ease her pain.


It will be a tiny, odd fact about him, an anecdote ... for a future dinner party.

Narrator, Chapter 9

Moushumi destroys the trust between her and Gogol when she tells her friends about his pet name, which he thought would remain a secret between them. Gogol feels as if this breach of trust is also a sign that he is just an interesting story for her to relate at dinner parties with her intellectual friends, suggesting that he really means nothing to her.


The thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace.

Narrator, Chapter 12

Gogol feels bereft that there will be no one in his life left to call him the name he has so hated. Sonia will be far from him, his mother will be in India half the time, and he has no family living with him. The name is the first thing his father gave to him, and now that his father is gone, it feels to Gogol as if he is losing his name. The symbol of the name is tied to the memory of his father's love, and Gogol can't take one out of his life without wiping out the other.

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