Study Questions for Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake

Lahiri's novel addresses both the experiences of immigrant parents adjusting to life in The United States and the "twoness" experienced by first generation Americans as they attempt to negotiate the competing influences of parents, public authority figures [at school, on the job, etc...], and friends and colleagues. As we negotiate our way through the novel, I will add study questions to direct your attention to further development of thematic concerns and other issues that arise in our discussions. Please consult this list as you complete each reading assignment, for the updates will be added the afternoon or evening following each class discussion.

To facilitate our discussion of the initial two chapters of the novel [1-47], I'd like you to consider the following issues

  • Consider the function of names and naming in the novel's opening chapters. How does Gogol get his name? How do institutionalized American naming practices conflict with the Bengali tradition and Ashima and Ashoke's expectations regarding the naming of their child? Do the notions of a pet name [daknam] and a good name [bhalonam] further evidence the different expectations regarding family relations, privacy issues, and personal identity in traditional Bengali and American cultures? [See 24-26].
  • How does Ashima's experience giving birth in an American hospital [3-7 & 22-25] help us to better understand Ashima's initial alienation from her new culture, her sense of being alone?
  • How do Alan and Judy Montgomery [30-34] function to provide additional contrast between Ashima's expectations and American practices?
  • Finally, consider Ashoke's interaction with Ghosh on the train just before the accident, Ashoke's interest in Russian Literature and especially Gogol's "The Overcoat," and Ghosh's advice to him. Are these moments directing our attention to fundamental concerns that will become central to our understanding of Ashoke and his relationship with Ashima and his son, Gogol? [See 13-16 & 33.]