The Namesake Essay

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The film I have chosen is “The Namesake” by Jhumpra Lahiri. A traditional Bengali Indian family, the Ganguli’s, are moving to New England and are trying to stay engulfed in their unique cultural identity. Ashoke Ganguli brings his new wife, Ashima, to a strange new world, leaving her lonely and confused of a culture outside of her own. Ashima needs to learn to love a man she does not know, to customize herself to a country she is unfamiliar with, and to hold true to her values in a culture foreign to her traditional beliefs.

In this paper I will inform the reader of the Family structure, social class on gender as well as material culture and nonmaterial culture pertaining to the Ganguli’s and how they made a place in American society. I will also show you two different sides to view this movie from, Symbolic interactionist and how it relates to this movies identity as well as the Functionalist perspective and its objectivity (Cherlin 03) on material impacting this story. Family Structure Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, have an arranged marriage. An arranged marriage is one set up by either parents or grandparents, to benefit the families.

Arranged marriages are to be performed usually out of necessity and not out of love, “in many societies throughout the world today, people marry out of obligation to parents, and family” (Murstein 1974, pg. 47). This can be seen as an Institutional marriage. Romantic love based on emotions was seen as risky and not practical (notes M/F), Ashima comes from an upper class Bengali family. We can assume this because of her knowledge in singing, music, and poetry. Ashima recites poetry by Robert Frost for Ashoke and his family.

Ashima’s family believes that Ashoke is a suitable husband for their daughter and by marrying him she will have access to whole new world. Ashoke’s family is an upper middle class family. We can assume this by their wealth of knowledge as well as that their son is training in New York City for his PhD. Gogol (Nick) and Gina spend a large amount of time at one another’s places without his parents knowledge. Gogol has to lie to his mother about the relationship, knowing she would not approve. He is told once by an auntie. “To have fun with American woman, but always marry a Bengali” (The Namesake).

This relationship does not work out for Gogol. The reasoning behind this relationship ending is the cultural differences. Nick (Gogol) marries the traditional Bengali woman, Oshme that his mother so hoped for. Oshme, is intelligent, well rounded and seems to be what he is looking for. Oshme had other hopes and dreams. Ashme overhears her talking on the phone to which she thinks is another man. Oshme is engaging in an extramarital affair. When Nick discovers the affair, Oshme states “Maybe it’s not enough that we are both Bengali. ” Nick replies “That’s not why I loved you” (The Namesake).

Divorce in this case took place because of a cultural change. A cultural change in an Individualized marriage focused on romantic love, role fulfillment to self fulfillment (M/F Notes 10/20/11). Nick and Oshme marry to satisfy their parents but also because Nick believes he is “In Love. ” Oshme marries only to satisfy her relations. Social construction on gender Traditional femininity is being displayed and defined by Ashima. Ashima displays appropriate femininity in several ways. First upon introduction to Ashook she shows intellect and diversity by reciting a poem by Robert Frost in English.

Though Ashima has aspiring dreams of becoming a singer, these dreams are not seen as socially acceptable in regard to her family. Ashima is brought up where conformity of woman is believed to be enforced. Ashima has to put her dreams on hold to achieve the status of wife and mother. She marries the man who her family has chosen to be the best suitor. Ashima has to incorporate her cultural differences with the culture her husband has adapted with. Ashima before meeting Ashoke walks into her families’ home and tries on her future husbands’ shoes, as if she wants to learn to walk in the mans shoes she will walk with through life.

Ashima is seen as fragile in this movie. She does what as expected of her at all times. She holds true to her values as a Bengali. Defining her more as supporting a separate sphere ideology, she stays home training children, while her husband works (Partnership and Marriage p. 70). Overtime, her families beliefs do hold true, Ashima does learn to love, honor and respect her husband. Traditional Masculinity is being displayed and defined by Ashoke, in honoring his family’s wishes in marrying Ashima. Ashoke portrays the role of a more traditional husband working and living in the Industrial Era.

Ashoke is a good father, husband ,and a good moral provider. Throughout the movie he is shown teaching Ashima and Gogol. One example of this Ashoke and Ashima first arrive in New York; after a flight halfway around the world, he tells his new wife to lie down and he will make her tea. Her face carries a look of astonishment. She replies “I can’t. ” He proclaims that this is America, “Things are different here in America. ” This is not traditional Bengali ways. His new bride is not sure what to think. Another example of Ashoke teaching his new bride is Ashima wanting to show her new husband that she can take care of him.

She wanders to the laundry mat to do laundry, shrinking Ashoke’s clothing in the process. Ashoke, seeing this, negatively sanctions (Macintyre, 2006) her. He explains how the Indian rupee is in comparison to our American dollar. Realizing he has upset Ashima, he appeals to his new bride trying to cheer her up. Trying to make her feel more at home, Ashoke instructs Ashima on how to wander the city safely. A romantic bond is forming; a belief that with arranged marriages romantic love will come in time (Murstein, 1974, pg. 47). Gogol (Nike) Ashima and Ashoke’s son initially has trouble displaying appropriate masculinity.

Ashoke has shown gender differential treatment to Gogol (Gender and Families) in hopes that someday he will be able to make his place in society. Gogol is a head strong American Bengali who is unsure of his place in society. After learning the meaning behind his name in English class, He could not understand why his father would name him Gogol. Gogol’s relationship with his father is struggling. Ashoke gives him a book for his graduation, by the Russian author “Gogol. ” He tries to explain the importance of the book and Gogol’s name. Gogol is rude, obnoxious, and shows little interest.

Ashoke is trying to engender his son (Coltrane and Adams (p. 185-195) Ashoke is hurt, but Gogol finds no reaction to his father’s pain. Again at the breakfast table, Gogol shows no understanding for his name and tells his father he his changing his name legally to “Nick” after graduation. Nick finally arrives at an understanding when his father explains the whole story of “the train” and positively sanctions his son by telling him that every day of his son’s life is a gift. His mother wishes for him to marry a Bengali girl, but when she presents one to him, he finds her repulsive.

With the death of his father Nick realizes starts to realize the importance of his place in the family. He slips on his fathers shoes, just like his mother had done in the beginning, and realizes, he is the one to carry on the family name. He is his father’s, Namesake. He shaves his head in honor of his father and in honor of his way back to the cultural identity he grew away from. Traditional femininity is not done well by Sonia who is Ashima’s and Ashoke’s daughter except in times of relevance. She is born into an American society and seems to be lost to the wayside.

Her hopes and dream and moral values do not seem to be as much of an importance as that of Gogol’s and carrying out the name of the family. She wears provocative American clothing and shows little to no respect for her Bengalis traditional values. Material Culture and nonmaterial culture Examples of material culture in this film are upheld throughout by a majority of the characters, most of all Ashima. She holds true to her beliefs and maintains her femininity. Ashima adorns herself with the “bindi” symbol on her forehead after her wedding. This bindi symbol (McIntyre 06) is a tradition for some Bengali woman to signify marriage.

After moving to America she continues to wear her traditional Indian Sari, and Bindi symbol, to signify who she is. Ashima values (McIntyre 06) loyalty to her family, traditions as well as to her to husband. Specific norms (McIntyre 06) that are apparent are the lack of public physical affection, the clothing adorned by Ashima, the son as the one to take over when the father passes. Open affection is not seen between Ashima and Ashoke, unless it is in the privacy of their own room. Ashoke values (McIntyre 06) the closeness with his wife and family. He holds his children and their rearing at a high standard.

He wants Gogol to know where his name came from and understand the meaning behind it. Ashoke also wants his son to know the meaning of his place in the family and the importance of caring on the family name. Ashoke believes that his guidance has been lost on his children; he tries to make a last chance effort to connect with his son. Telling his son about “the train” and that every day of his son’s life is a gift! Gina receives negative sanctions (McIntyre 06) from the family throughout the film. She does not understand the cultural differences in relations to hand holding, clothing, and salutations.

Even after Nick explains his family’s organization, Gina engages in continual breaking of norms and is negatively sanctioned by Ashima and Ashoke. She calls Ashima by her first name and receives a look of dismay. She tries to hold Nicks hand, and she kisses Ashoke on the cheek. Ashoke doesn’t know how to respond. Showing open displays of affection is seen as inappropriate. Ashoke tries to shirk off the action with a half smile not knowing how to respond, to the definite cultural difference. Family’s have expectations that maybe different to outsiders.

Those who aren’t in the family may not understand alternative cultures with beliefs outside of their own (Cherlin, p. 27). After Ashoke’s father passes away, he realizes that the cultural differences are too grand. Gina shows to the funeral in black, where the tradition in his family is white. Gina does not realize the differences between them, are a hurdle too big to overcome. Functionalist Perspective From the functionalist perspective this is considered the ideal family. A husband, wife, two children, specifically, one boy, one girl, is the American dream.

Ashoke is the instrumental (Cherlin 03) head of household because he worked outside the home. Ashima is the expressive leader because she provides the emotional support for the family (Cherlin 03). From the functionalist perspective I think they would find a few things problematic. If Ashoke had stayed In Bengali, his family may not have had the diverse challenges they encountered here in America. In saying this, let me define my reasoning. The family’s values suggest that Gogol must marry Bengali women, whose traditional values meet the values for a Bengali family scenario.

Had Gogol grown up in Bengali he may not have had the influence of another culture so diverse from his own. Functionalist prefer order and predictability and are concerned with structure, they believe it supports a standard (M/F Notes 9/6). Symbolic Interaction The symbolic meaning as it pertains to the Bengali culture starts at the beginning of this film. The face paint and the wedding adornment for both Ashima and Ashoke is elaborate and delicately done showing intimacy with their heritage. During the love making scene, Ashima can be seen with red paint from her hands down to her feet.

From further research I concluded this red paint, along with the Bindi dot signifies marriage (Bengalinet. com). Ashima continues to wear her traditional Sari to display her culture. Sari’s can be seen on all the Bengali women at family gatherings. Gina, unbeknown to her, wears black to the funeral of Ashoke, where the tradition is white. Gina fails to recognize what specific norms of the Ganguli’s are which aids to the dissolution of her and Gogol’s relationship. Gogol shaves his head after the passing of his father, as a tribute to his father as well as to exhibit his return to the culture he abandoned.

The many symbols displayed throughout the Namesake, show true cultural identity between Ashima and Ashoke. Gogol and Sonia seem to lose their cultural identity as they grow but Gogol finds his way back through symbolic meaning placed by his father. Ashoke’s’ relationship with the author of “The Namesake”, “Gogol” holds symbolic meaning to his life and how he chooses to define it. He wants to lead his family by example and be a strong moral guide. All he wants for Gogol is for him to see this and carry on the family name with pride and insight.

In conclusion the relationships in this film withhold the culture shocks brought on by a changing society. A mother learns to love a man in an arranged marriage simply by trying on a pair of shoes and opening herself up to new ideas and beliefs. A son finds his true cultural identity in a world he grew up in that reflects his true self and his heritage. I have shown the family structure, social construction on gender, material culture, and how they relate to the Namesake. I have looked at this film from a functionalist perspective as well as a symbolic Interactionist perspective and hope I have enlightened you. Reference Page Arranged Marriages. ” Bengalinet. com: The Leading Internet Access Site on the Net. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. . Cherlin, Andrew J. “Chapter 1. ” Public and Private Families: a Reader. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003. 28-29. Print. Coltrane, Scott, and Michele Adams. “Family Rituals Reproduce Gender. ” Gender and Families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. 27. Print. Coltrane, Scott, and Michele Adams. Gender and Families: Engendering Children. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print. Coltrane, Scott, and Michele Adams. “Masculinity vs. Feminity. ” Gender and Families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Print. Coltrane, Scott, and Michele Adams. “Partnership and Marriage. ” Gender and Families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. 70. Print. McIntyre, Lisa J. “Culture. ” The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006. Print. Monohan Lang, Molly. “Marriage and Family. ” Bloomsburg University. Lecture. Murstein, B. I. “Love and Marriage in the past. ” Gender and Families (2008): 47. Abstract. Print. The Namesake. Dir. Mira Nair. Prod. Mira Nair and Lydia Dean Pilcher. By Sooni Taraporevala. Perf. Kal Penn, Tabu, and Irrfan Khan. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2007. DVD.

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