Cultural Identity in The Namesake Essay
Cultural Identity in The Namesake
The Namesake illustrates several elements of transition that are common to the stories of immigrant families and their children. As shown in the film, the first generation connects with their cultural identity and roots to a far greater degree and density than their children do. The second generation exists between two realities of culture including their ethnic heritage and the world they live in presently. There is a barrier between parents and first-generation American born children. Some immigrant families will not accept the fact that times are changing and they did not grow up in the same country, they have not faced the same struggles, or even began to realize how hard and much different America is than most other nations.
Their children have access to many things at their age then the parents did. For example, in America, if Gogol wants to date, then he can date. Back home in India, dating is unacceptable and it is not as easy to maintain a girlfriend in India then it is here, in America. In this analysis of culture and identity, The Namesake will be depicted as an intellectual and an existing struggle for characters to establish their identity. In this film, adapted form a depiction of Bengali life in Western society, there are assorted scenes of emotional and relationship related issues that face the main characters. Focusing on the lives of Ashima and Ashoke in the western world including their son
Gogol, there is a clear contrast between the lifestyles and values upheld by both age groups. This not only contributes to the problems each experience in their journeys, but also the cultural identity that each establishes as their own. Each character presents significant transformation in these areas. The film The Namesake illustrates aspects of cultural identity and formation of specific personas through its storyline, character development and specific use of camera motion and light within scenes. The cultural aspects experienced by each character are visualized in a meaningful way as well as the interconnected nature of relationships between Gogol and his parents. Since there are disagreements in the way that Gogol, a second generation Bengali, lives his life in comparison to his parents, it is possible to see similarities in the way each character develops throughout the movie.
Also, the use of close up camera documentation of each character’s response and attitudes portrays the scenes most carefully and with maximum evidence for emotional development in terms of the audience’s visualization. The close up camera movement shows us how exactly the character was feeling and how their emotion changes in one scene. There are several scenes and shots from this movie that provide detail about the how each characters transformation illustrates their cultural identity. Two of these are clear portrayals of the differences faced by Gogol. In a scene showing a vacation to his Caucasian family’s home there were clear indicators of his acceptance amongst the family. The warm conversation and clearly welcoming atmosphere made his lifestyle with his partner much easier compared to his parents who weren’t extremely encouraging of the relationship. The sense of respect is shown by slower camera angles with little tension besides regular circumstantial evidence. These are well-lit scenes that show how the characters feel and the best case scenarios experienced by Gogol.
This is in simple contrast to the scenes illustrating a trip the couple makes to his family home. Instead of warm greetings his parents are unable to understand the social norms of dating as well as the cultural standards of the American life. This results in his partner exhibiting warmness and sympathy comparable to her own upbringing only to receive less than warm responses. This is because of the emotional and cultural differences that are demonstrated in terms of context and communication norms. These scenes show the difference of opinions between Gogol’s parents as well as his decision making and discreet choices that show his girlfriend how he truly felt. These slight motions were captured by camera shots that picked up on these indirect gestures. For example, when Gogol and his girlfriend were sitting on his family couch and his dad’s back was turned, Gogol quickly removed his girlfriend’s hand from his lap.
This was a small example of the secretiveness with which he wished to carry out the trip, rather than the friendly openness he experienced in her home. He did not want to flaunt his relationship, he knew his parents already felt discomfort from the idea of the two of them together. While the daytime conversations are relatively well lit, there is room for differences; there were more shadows and not as positive energy in the conversations ensuing between Gogol and his girlfriend.
Significant quotations from many assessments of the movie and book include those that describe a sense of waiting that is associated with life for the first generation immigrants. In assessing the female protagonist Ashima, the author writes, “For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy–a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like
pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect (Lawson).” This is a clear explanation of the imagery presented on screen regarding Ashima’s loneliness and sense of transition. Particularly in scenes showing her first arrival in India, the adjustment to a new way of life required significant strength that rejected old beliefs in order adapt new ones. This included depictions of her by herself in the home she lived in, as well as in preparation for having a child.
The new life she had away from family and systems of support in her home country are clearly seen in these lonely moments and show how her ‘previous life had vanished, replaced by something more complicated’. The demands on her are further seen in terms of the work needed to contribute to a lifestyle comparable to those of her standards. Ultimately she was able to adjust to life in a Western society, but only as a foreigner living in a different world. This shows a feeling of singularity amongst many and justifies her experience as someone by themselves in a place of values and beliefs different to her own.
According to critics “Nair not only recreates an older Bengali era, she also conveys the deep bond between Ashoke and Ashima”. This illustrates the transition of the nature in this arranged marriage from slightly apprehensive and disconnected initially, to a growing sense of understanding and unspoken significance. This is unique to the cultural context of those with an Indian heritage and depicts the differences between culture and context within Western Society. Regardless of the images or examples of love that Gogol presents to his parents, they are justified and explain that they expect certain standards that are irreversible, though not explicitly mentioned this way. It can be difficult to visualize the harsh reactions here because of the fundamental difference in beliefs that each character has. However, it does identify impacting
and significant differences between East and West. Since this older generation demonstrates the values of a generation that are not imparted to their youth in the same way, a great deal of the character development that Gogol and his sister must take charge of is adopting their newfound ideals and values to the lifestyle the have grown from and felt comfortable with for most of their life (Idol).
According to the reviewer Chatter, Idol, ‘Just as the metaphor of the bridges in the movie, “The Namesake” is about bridging the gap. This is a definition of how the movie on a whole illustrates each characters journey to find themselves within the context and environment. These experiences are cultivated through a filtered lens of the most transformational elements of human nature such as changing cultural beliefs regarding future family members, or even just adapting to the changing views of one’s son (Idol). The film illustrates Gogol’s challenge to defend his native westernized values and beliefs in face of his parents traditional and culturally attached belief system.
This major change is an example of the bridging between cultural attitudes and opposition to new circumstances based on the dramatic nature of immigration. It also provides evidence of how Gogol, a second generation individual, had to suffer with the discrepancies in attitude that his parents were unknowingly facing in raising children in a society different from that which they came from. Ultimately the cultural identities are established firmly by both age groups through firm action and certain emotional distances that depict the changing beliefs and systems that each family member endured.
In conclusion, there are a number of elements that portray cultural identification and identity formation between the characters of Gogol, Ashoke and Ashima. These three roles
illustrate strongly the life transition of moving and starting a family in a different country. They also allow for examination of the cultural differences that can grow from life and love taking place in the United States. Despite the landscape of western ideals and communication styles, there are clear indicators of Indian values being transferred to each of these characters. For example, scenes that illustrate Ashima’s feeling of patience and waiting are accompanied by critical examinations of the under spoken nature of her relationship with Ashoke. Similarly, the differences in international environments experienced by Gogol are featured in a variety of capacities throughout the film.
Particular attention to the scenes of introduction where Gogol and his girlfriend experienced entirely different ends of the spectrum in terms of their parents’ reactions to one another. It shows perfectly that there is a cultural barrier between the two families, where his girlfriend’s family is extremely accepting, while Gogol’s parents are not. They want him to follow tradition and marry a Bengali girl and raise a family just like his own. These attitudes and emotional presentations as narrated by camera shots of the story line provide clear evidence of cultural transplanting and the way immigration can affect multiple generations.
Idol Chatter,. ‘‘The Namesake’: A Journey Of Self Discovery’. N. p., 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.
Lawson, Dayo,. ‘SELECTED QUOTES & PASSAGES: THE NAMESAKE BY JHUMPA LAHIRI « Dayo Lawson’. N. p., 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.