Cultural traditions, migration, family and identity are issues which emerge throughout the novel The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. How have various literary techniques been used to show that these issues play a major role in an individual experiencing a sense of belonging or not belonging? The need to belong to a group or community shapes our behaviour, attitudes and actions. Instinctively we bond with our own or people we may otherwise not have. However, when your cultural identity is marginalised you can feel dislocated and alienated, thus believing that you do not belong.
These notions of an individual experiencing a sense of belonging or not belonging is evident in the novel The Namesake and is expressed through a variety of literary techniques. The Namesake portrays the Ganguli family over a course of thirty-two years. It follows Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli from shortly after their emigration from Calcutta, India, to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960’s. The story then follows the couple as their children are born and raised in the United States. It is their struggles, particularly those of the eldest son, Gogol, that compromise the bulk of the story.
Immigration can create cultural confusion about belonging to a home and homeland. This is apparent through the food motif and listing in The Namesake. “Ashima stands in the kitchen of her Central square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chili pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima had been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling for newspaper cones…
Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing. ” The fo0d that she is eating is a part of her cultural identity; however, the point made that there is something missing shows the reader that Ashima is missing her home country. The food is symbolic of her home, where she once belonged, but also of her cross-cultural identity. It is also symbolic of her migration and the obstacles to her belonging. We search for a place to belong, not realising that it is our perceptions and attitudes of ourselves and others, not the place that allows us to belong.
The extended simile is symbolic of the obstacles being a migrant poses. “For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realise, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that the previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect. The simile, the dash and the listing has linked the concept of not belonging in the way that shows that Ashima is confused about where she truly belongs. Often one’s attitudes towards belonging change over time. Ashoke, Ashima and their children, allow the successive assimilation into American culture. This is shown through the use of food motifs and juxtaposition of experiences. “They learn to roast turkeys, albeit rubbed with garlic and cumin and cayenne, at Thanksgiving, to nail a wreath to their door in December, to wrap woollen scarves around snowmen, to colour boiled eggs violet and pink at Easter and hide them around the house.
For the sake of Gogol and Sonia they celebrate, with progressively increasing fanfare, the birth of Christ and even the children look forward to far more than the worship of Durga and Saraswati. ” Ashoke and Ashima display an alteration to their attitude to belonging. They are happy to assimilate, primarily for the sake of their children as they are truly American-born. A sense of belonging can emerge from the connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the larger world. The Ganguli family feel a strong sense of belonging through the Bengali community.
They are the people they can relate to and associate with comfortably. “Gogol’s fourteenth birthday, like most events in his life, it is another excuse for his parents to throw a party for their Bengali friends. ” Ashoke, Ashima and Gogol will always belong to the Bengali community. Their Bengali friends are part of who they are; their identity and share a mutual connection to each other because of their shared culture. The way in which an individual’s sense of belonging is influenced can juxtapose that of another individual.
Sonia’s sense of belonging differs to that of her brother as her parents chose a name that is mainstream compared to Gogol. Thus allowing her to belong thoroughly to American society as she he did not have to experience a good name, pet name confusion. Furthermore, Sonia portrays an attitude that is far more open to assimilating to teenage American culture. “At home he watches MTV with Sonia as she doctors her jeans, cutting inches off the bottoms and inserting zippers at the newly narrowed ankles.
One weekend, the washing machine is occupied because Sonia is in the process of dyeing the vast majority of her clothing black. She is in high school now, taking Mr Lawson’s English class, already going to parties at which both boys and girls are present… Ashima lives in fear that Sonia will colour a streak of it blonde, as Sonia had threatened to do on more than one occasion to do, and that she will have additional holes pierced in her earlobes at the mall. They argue violently about such things, Ashima crying, Sonia slamming doors. Sonia had a different experience in belonging compared to her brother and is portrayed as more of a rebellious teenager’ than what Gogol was. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri displays issues of cultural traditions, migration, family and identity throughout. Various literary techniques have been used to show that these issues play a major role in an individual experiencing a sense of belonging or not belonging. Characters within the novel who have experienced belonging and not belonging and the various issues associated with it are Ashoke, Ashima, Gogol and Sonia.