The Namesake and Bend it Like Beckham Belonging Analysis

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“The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri and “Bend it like Beckham” both explore the theme of searching for belonging. In “The Namesake”, Gogol Ganguli faces the struggle of finding his place within his family and Bengali culture, as he was raised in the U.S. while his parents adhered to Bengali traditions in India before moving to America. Gogol must navigate between assimilating into American society and preserving his Bengali heritage. Similarly, Jesmindar Bhamra, the protagonist in “Bend it like Beckham”, also grapples with similar challenges.

In 2002, Gurinder Chadha directed a film that showcases a typical Sikh-Indian family residing in England. The movie follows the story of Jesminder, the youngest member of the family, who aspires to become a footballer. However, her parents’ adherence to traditional Indian-Sikh beliefs and customs causes her to feel like an outsider amongst her English friends. This dilemma of living in two contrasting cultures and seeking a sense of acceptance is also explored in the Namesake and ‘Bend it like Beckham’. Both Gogol and Jess, the central characters in these texts, experience a similar struggle of finding their place between their cultural heritage and the new culture they are exposed to. These stories highlight that an individual’s sense of belonging evolves over time and through various life encounters.

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“The Namesake” is about Gogol Ganguli, who is of Indian descent but was born in America. His parents, Ashima and Ashoke, had to leave their home in India and move to America, which was a difficult and challenging experience for them. The author of the novel, Lahiri, explores the theme of belonging using symbolism, particularly through the motif of naming. Gogol’s name represents his struggle to accept himself and feel a sense of belonging. His name sets him apart and makes him question his identity, as it is neither Bengali nor a typical American name. This confusion and alienation caused by his unique name significantly impacts Gogol throughout his life.

In Bengali families, individual names are considered sacred and not meant to be inherited or shared. However, Gogol experiences a different upbringing in America, where children often feel ashamed of their differences and strive to blend in. This creates a conflict between two cultures. Ashima and Ashoke, Gogol’s parents, aim to instill Bengali culture and values in their children. However, Gogol grows up wanting to belong and relates more to his peers and the American culture surrounding him. It is only later in their lives that they truly appreciate their Bengali heritage and Gogol begins to recognize the significance of his name. During high school, Gogol struggles with accepting his name as he sees no real meaning behind it. When he goes to college, he rejects his identity completely and legally changes his name to Nikhil, which connects him to his Bengali roots, even though he had once been ashamed of them. Gogol dreads returning home and being referred to as “Gogol” because to him, it is not just a name but also represents the challenges he faced in fitting into two different cultures. College life allows him to easily embrace his American identity as Nikhil.

The relationship between Gogol and Maxine Ratliff exemplifies Gogol’s desired isolation from his family and Bengali heritage. Gogol moves in with Maxine and embraces her family’s American lifestyle, which brings him a sense of tranquility and belonging. However, amidst the laughter and revelry of the Ratliffs’ table, Gogol is aware that immersing himself in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own culture. The more time he spends with the Ratliffs, the further he drifts away from his own family and heritage. While the Ratliffs’ world is appealing to him, it is not his own – a white, affluent, American world that does not align with Gogol’s identity. Despite this, Gogol deems Maxine’s family as his own and finally discovers something he can cherish and call his own.

Maxine surprises Gogol when she learns about his Bengali parents and their arranged marriages, his mother’s daily cooking of Indian food, and her wearing of saris and bindis. Gogol feels disconnected from his American culture and his Bengali roots due to his experiences with Maxine, causing him to become distant from his old self. However, it is only after his father’s death and divorce from Moushumi that Gogol realizes the importance of his name and accepts it as part of himself. He understands that without people calling him Gogol, he will cease to exist in the hearts of his loved ones. Gogol finds solace in this realization. Furthermore, the film “Bend it like Beckham” shares similarities with “The Namesake” as both explore the struggles of fitting into a different society and culture. The film specifically focuses on Jess’s desire to play football and the conflicts she faces with her traditional Sikh family.

Jess faces a choice between pursuing football or following her parents’ expectations of finishing school and marrying an Indian man. Throughout the movie, she undergoes the process of assimilating into British society. While she doesn’t want to completely let go of her Indian heritage, she also desires to preserve her cultural identity. In contrast, Jess’s parents opt not to assimilate and remain separate from the British community. As Jess tries to discover her own sense of self while staying connected with her family, she befriends Jules, a British soccer player. During this period, Jess, as a young British woman, begins embracing elements of modern-day British culture in terms of fashion and behavior in order to fit in.

This film portrays characters who experience different kinds of discrimination, encompassing cultural, racial, gender, and sexual discrimination. The main character named Jess faces pressure from her family and society to quit playing football due to its perception as a male-dominated sport. Similar to the protagonist in “The Namesake” who falls in love with an American girl named Maxine, Jess also develops a relationship with her coach Joe. In both stories, the parents are opposed to this relationship fearing it will bring shame upon their family. Additionally, Jess’s older sister Pinky questions her desire to marry an English man by asking if she wants to become the center of attention at every family gathering.

The director frequently uses close-up shots to convey the emotions of the characters and help the audience understand their feelings, effectively expressing their expressions. Additionally, costuming is utilized by the filmmaker to symbolize mood and emotion. One example of this can be seen in Jess’ red soccer jersey, which represents her passion for the sport. When she wears it, she experiences joy and happiness. In contrast, wearing her traditional sari brings about sadness and misery. Interestingly, after winning the final match, when Jess changes back into her sari, she once again finds happiness. This emphasizes how soccer became a way for her to embrace her culture and live a fulfilling life.

These experiences helped her develop a sense of belonging and made it easier for her to accept her cultural identity. In the conclusion of the movie, Jess’ parents grant her permission to travel to the United States for soccer. Through her love for football, Jess has discovered a way to feel purposeful and connected, with her family’s acceptance playing a role in this as well. Consequently, not only did these experiences contribute to her journey towards belonging but also allowed both of her cultures to remain intact.

Gogol also finds peace when he realizes that his identity is influenced by both cultures. He does not have to choose one over the other; instead, he can embrace them both. It is his father’s passing that ultimately leads him to accept his given name and fully embrace himself without shame. As Gogol goes through his own experiences, his sense of belonging changes as he begins accepting his place in society and the world around him.

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The Namesake and Bend it Like Beckham Belonging Analysis. (2016, May 29). Retrieved from

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