The Namesake

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The Namesake Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island, often visiting relatives in Calcutta. She studied English at Barnard, graduating in 1989, and went on to receive multiple degrees from Boston University, including an M.A. in English, an MFA in Creative Writing, and M.A. in Comparative Literature, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. In 2001 she married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, Senior Editor of Time Latin America, and with whom she now resides in Rome, Italy, along with their two children. Her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize.
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Historical Context of The Namesake
New immigration legislation introduced in 1965 and 1990, which created and then expanded permanent work visas for highly skilled laborers and students (like Ashoke), led to a surge in Indian immigration to the United States. As a result, the population of Indian immigrants in America increased ten-fold between 1980 and 2013.
Other Books Related to The Namesake
Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri’s collection of short stories) covers many similar themes, addressing the experience of India immigrants to America. Other works by prize-winning contemporary authors like Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and Junot Diaz examine the immigrant experience more generally. The Namesake is also influenced by the works of Nikolai Gogol, particularly The Overcoat.
Key Facts about The Namesake
  • Full Title: The Namesake
  • When Written: 2003
  • Where Written: First published in part by the New Yorker, in June 2003
  • When Published: September, 2003
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Immigrant Fiction, Bildungsroman
  • Setting: Calcutta; Massachusetts; New York
  • Climax: Debatably, in a novel whose scope spans three decades, the climax comes when Gogol’s father, Ashoke, dies unexpectedly, causing Gogol to return toward his family, leave Maxine, and ultimately marry Moushumi.
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient narrator, sometimes with the added perspective of a specific character
Extra Credit for The Namesake

Pet Names Lahiri herself goes by her Indian ‘pet name’ after feeling embarrassed in kindergarten when her teacher had difficulty pronouncing her true name – she has said that this was one inspiration for the story of Gogol/Nikhil.

Film Version There is a popular movie adaptation of The Namesake starring Kal Penn as Gogol Ganguli.