Romantic Relationships and their relation to Gogol’s americanization

The Namesake Chapters 5-8

As one grows older, they are forced to make important decisions. Where will they be continuing their post-secondary studies? Where do they want to live? What do they want to be? Who do they want to marry?

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Terrible meme made by yours truly

As I continue reading further into The Namesake, one recurring theme seems to become more and more apparent: Gogol’s conflict between having to choose spending time with his girlfriend and his family, grows as he gets more serious about dating. Until now, Gogol has expressed serious interest in the American lifestyle, and tries to disregard his Bengali roots as much as possible. His dating life, in some way, is an outlet for him to completely disconnect from his heritage and submerge himself into the American way of life. Furthermore, exploring the dating life is also away from him to disconnect himself from his roots as the action of dating in itself is against Bengali norms. As Gogol’s parents’, like many Bengali couples, are linked by an arranged marriage, he never learned about the dating lifestyle as his parents never valued romanticism, as can be seen in this quote:

“ [Gogol’s] parents have expressed no curiosity about his girlfriend. His relationship with her is one accomplishment in his life about which they are not in the least bit proud or pleased.”(Lahiri, 116)

His first girlfriend, Ruth, is as a redhead with growing in brown roots, dark eyebrows, but otherwise friendly features. She first gives him a glimpse of what dating in America is like. On dates, they

“[G]o to a movie at the Brattle, buying tickets for whatever is about to begin, sitting in the back of the balcony and kissing. […] They have lunch [and] exchange gifts.” (Lahiri, 117)

With Ruth, he begins to PDA (public display of affection), a concept foreign to his homeland. His relationship with Ruth isn’t much developed in the book, giving the idea to the reader that she is not the one who really “changes” him.

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After breaking up with Ruth, Gogol meets Maxine. She is a dirty blonde, with green eyes, and sloping and unusually long jawbones. In this relationship, he really emerges into his American roots as she is described to live the American Dream. In their relationship, he completely changes his way of life.

“He falls in love with Maxine, the house, and Gerald and Lydia’s manner of living, for to know her and love her is to know and love all of these things. […] He learns to love the food she and her parents eat, […] to wake up earlier than he is used to, to the sound of [the dog] barking downstairs, […] to anticipate, every evening, the sound of a cork emerging from a fresh bottle of wine.” (Lahiri, 137)

Cheerful black guy and his young white wife preparing healthy dinner with fun
Gogol and Maxine preparing a clearly American meal.

To begin with, when looking at the first part of the quote, we can understand that Gogol is drawn to these women, through his envious tone, mostly because they allow him to escape the reality that is his life and his roots. His life with his  parents at home is contrasted to the life he lives with Maxine, the ideal American Girl. He learns to live a lifestyle opposing the one he had grown up in, without traditional Bengali food, with pets, etc. His romantic relationship begins to take over and he neglects his family. He begins to spend all of his time with Maxine, and being in the apartment so rarely that he can never pick up when his mother calls. He also chooses not to go home in the summer, using the fact that his firm is entering a big competition as an excuse. When his mother asks him to come home for his father’s departure to Ohio, he is reluctant, explaining that

“ [He’s] going on vacation […] to spend a couple of weeks in New Hampshire [with] a girl [he’s] seeing.” (Lahiri, 144-145)

Although he ends up making a stop to his parents’ house on his way to vacation, Gogol is truly beginning to isolate himself from his family.

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After his father passes away, Gogol begins to realize the importance of keeping in touch with his family, as they are the only relatives he has in America, after all. However, it does not stop him from going after women who, again, disconnect him from his roots. The next woman who comes into his life, Bridget, is also an architect, with brown hair, and a husband. However, that knowledge does not stop Gogol from sleeping with her. Throughout his dating years, his american values have become more and more apparent. At this point, they reach an all time high, when he not only has a casual relationship, but with a married woman – a concept that is sadly not foreign to western cultures. In this ‘relationship’,

“They do not have each other’s phone numbers. She always goes with him to his apartment. She never spends the night. […] He never has been in a situation with a woman in which so little of him is involved, so little expected.” (Lahiri, 191)

The degree of casualness is so opposite to the concepts that his mother has of dating that this contrast in lifestyle makes his mother question the direction in which Gogol’s love life is going. She

“Asks him if he has a new girlfriend. In the past she broached the topic defensively, but now she is hopeful, quietly concerned.” (Lahiri, 191)

At the peak of his americanized-self, Gogol shows no interest in getting serious, arguing that he is only thirty. His mother retorts that at his age, she was celebrating her tenth wedding anniversary. The contrast between American and Bengali relationship norms become apparent during this interaction. During this conversation, we can see the effect that dating non-indian women has had on Gogol, as he had never been pushed into committing or even thinking about engagement in any way.  He has no worries that he will get settled later on, but later on or even now seems to be too late for his mother.

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She eventually sets him up with a family friend, a Bengali girl to the name of Moushumi. She is the first girl he is interested in that wouldn’t contribute to his Americanization. On their dates, they discuss of their projects, recall memories of them as children. Again, the contrast between Bengali and American dating norms is evident. Gogol, who has had a history of at least kissing women on the first date, does nothing. In fact, they do not kiss until a few dates in.

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Gogol feels as though Moushumi gives him a way to live both his Bengali and American roots

Still, we see the effect that the American environment they grew up in had on both of them, as they do end up getting romantically and sexually involved within a few months. For the first time, he dates an indian women. And for the first time, he feels like he truly knows his significant other. In their relationship, Gogol explains that

“He sees her for entire weekends without makeup, […] when he kisses her head he tastes the oil that accumulates on her scalp between the shampoos, […] he sees the hair that grows on her legs between waxing, the black roots that emerge between appointments at the salon.” (Lahiri, 211)

Moushumi shares parts of herself that no women before had been able to show Gogol. She is raw, and her Bengali heritage makes discussions effortless and easy as he can picture most of the things she describes. Moushumi makes the same mistake as Gogol when she was younger, and vowed to only date non-Bengali men, to go against her family’s wishes. This way of life had her end up broken up with a month before the engagement, and heartbroken. Will dating a Bengali solve anything for these two who swore off dating within their culture? Will dating an American-Bengali be easier, since they both understand the struggle and can share both cultures within a  middle ground?

 

Works Cited

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6 thoughts on “Romantic Relationships and their relation to Gogol’s americanization

  1. I agree with the idea of Gogol distancing himself from his parents in order to live the ideal American lifestyle. I also agree with your points on how drastically different Gogol’s relationships have been from his mother’s. Do you believe Gogol has achieved being in his eyes an “American” or do you think he has finally given his Bengali heritage a chance because of his recent relationship with Moushumi?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sy,

      I’m personally excited to see how Gogol and Moushumi’s relationship will play out because it is the first time he gives his Bengali heritage a chance. To be honest, I think it will be refreshing for him to date outside of the Caucasian race in general. I don’t think that this relationship will necessarily workout, though, just because they’re both Bengali. In my opinion, him dating a first-generation immigrant in general is going to show him how much in common he can actually have with a girl, even if she’s outside of his race!

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  2. Gogol’s parents really want him to be with a Bengali girl, as most parents would want their kids to be with someone of the same heritage. Do you see any parallels between Ashoke and Ashima’s wants and what your parents want for you? I know that my parents don’t vocally express their preference in who I choose to date, and they are very laid back compared to other Viêt parents, but the fact remains that there still is a preference. In addition, do you think that parents projecting such wants on their children is justified? Speaking from a personal stand point, I see why most parents express a want in who their child dates, because there may be language barriers causing them to feel less connected to one another, but at the same time it’s not a justified reason to compromise your child’s happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Jess!

      My parents are also pretty laid back when it comes to dating – now – but it’s because I have had to fight my way to this point. Growing up, I have always been proud of my heritage and my culture. But somehow, my parents thought that once I would had my own children, I would fail to pass down my traditions due to being in a biracial relationship. I personally felt pretty offended at that point at the fact that my parents didn’t believe that I valued my own heritage enough to bestow it upon my children. After some talks, they understood that I really do appreciate my roots and will do everything I can to keep it alive in future generations. After that, they have not made comments on the race of the guy I was seeing and frankly are very open now. However, I got very lucky because I am the only one of all my cousins whose parents have this opinion….

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  3. Hey Lisa ^^
    I really liked how you broke down Gogol’s relationships in order to determine the way Gogol is following an American lifestyle opposed to a Bengali one, very well done and well supported! Out of curiosity I have an opinionated question for you. The text says that Gogol can finally understand his significant other, in this case Moushumi, who is Indian like him. Do you believe that the ONLY reason Gogol can better understand his new partner, Moushumi, would be because she is Bengali like him, opposed to his other partners who were from different cultures? If so, what is it about the other partners and their culture that made it so hard for Gogol to understand them like he does for Moushumi? More or less, do you think that the other girls could’ve showed a similar side of themselves like, Moushumi did to Gogol, even though they are from other cultures?
    Thanks ^^
    -Marcus

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Marcus,

      Very interesting question! Thank you for sharing it with me 🙂 I don’t necessarily believe that the fact that Moushumi was Bengali was what enabled her to show Gogol a different side of her, rather than her being an immigrant as a whole. The women he dated before were all Caucasian/American. And in America, the norms are obviously very different. Blondes rarely have any body hair in general, but women in general are expected to remove all body hair and to always be kept 100% tidy. In other cultures, including but not limited to Bengali, there are less expectations upon women to keep a perfect image. Due to this, girls from non-westernized cultures ‘let themselves go’ a bit more. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more honest about themselves, but since Gogol had never dated outside of the Caucasian culture, it seems to him as though Moushumi is more authentic towards him.

      Liked by 1 person

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