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?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?