The Namesake

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Love and Marriage Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Indian Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and Ritual Theme Icon
Independence, Rebellion, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Namesake, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Marriage Theme Icon

The novel examines the nature of love and marriage by providing an intimate view into a series of Gogol’s romantic relationships, which are seen alongside the enduring, arranged marriage of his parents.

Gogol’s story is grounded in the marriage of his parents, Ashoke and Ashima, whose conception of love is founded in their shared past in India. Characterized by clearly defined gender roles and less openly displayed affection, but also a deep sense of loyalty and companionship, this relationship can be contrasted with Gogol’s romantic experiences. While Gogol has intense, influential, and openly sexual relationships with three different women over the course of the novel—outside of, and then, briefly, within a marriage—Ashima and Ashoke are one another’s sole romantic partners in life, as evidenced by the first meeting between them, which was arranged by Ashima’s family.

This reflects a difference between the two generations about the concept of married life. Gogol uses love as another means of rebelling against his past and trying to form his own identity, and the women he is drawn to at different points in the novel match his attitude toward that past. For him, love is something to be found independently. For Ashima and Ashoke, marriage was not an exercise in independence or forming identity, but was instead another step in the traditional Indian path in life, and one that led toward companionship and the growth of a family.

Although there is a traditional separation between Ashima and Ashoke that may appear as distance to an American reader—as in the moment of Gogol’s birth, when Ashoke waits outside the room while Ashima delivers his son—the intimacy between the two of them is clear from the respect and care they take with one another. By contrast, the relationship between Moushumi and Gogol is driven by Moushumi’s desire—which is greater even than Gogol’s own—to conform to a certain image of a modern American. She and Gogol never seem to relax into the idea that they might find their identity in one another, and dinner parties with her friends in Brooklyn, where Gogol feels awkward and out of place, signal a divide between them. Moushomi’s dissatisfaction with the marriage eventually leads to infidelity, and the two are divorced. Their need for independence is greater than their sense of loyalty or commitment to a family identity.

Ultimately, Lahiri seems to support a balance of these two drives when it comes to love and marriage. It is important that one feel capable of defining one’s identity independently, because love pursued as a means of finding stability or escape seems to fail, but it is equally important, and requires a different kind of courage, to attach oneself to a world created in collaboration with another person.

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Love and Marriage ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love and Marriage appears in each chapter of The Namesake. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Love and Marriage Quotes in The Namesake

Below you will find the important quotes in The Namesake related to the theme of Love and Marriage.
Chapter 1 Quotes

When she calls out to Ashoke, she doesn’t say his name. Ashima never thinks of her husband’s name when she thinks of her husband, even though she knows perfectly well what it is. She has adopted his surname but refuses, for propriety’s sake, to utter his first. It’s not the type of thing Bengali wives do. Like a kiss or caress in a Hindi movie, a husband’s name is something intimate and therefore unspoken, cleverly patched over. And so … she utters the interrogative that has come to replace it, which translates roughly as “Are you listening to me?”

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu) (speaker), Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Ashima and Ashoke are still awaiting the arrival of their firstborn son, and the reader is given a glimpse into their relationship when Ashima calls to her husband without using his name. This is a product of tradition, since the name is considered an intimate aspect of a romantic relationship—the novel's first hint of the importance of naming in Indian culture. Ashima is devoted to tradition, and to "propriety," wary of the customs of the country that she has entered into, where first names are used indiscriminately. There is a gentle, humble quality to the phrase she uses in place of Ashoke's name, but it is still a strikingly formal phrase, from an American standpoint.

Ashima and Ashoke had an arranged marriage, and at this point they are still growing comfortable with one another, so much of what holds them together is a shared culture and a devotion to tradition, rather than a specific affection—although that love will come, and is already growing. Ashima, especially, has a reverence for this formal, respectful relationship, which might be considered unromantic from a modern American perspective. Later in the novel, she will be scandalized by the open affection that her children show for their own romantic partners. 


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Ashima had never heard of Boston, or of fiber optics. She was asked whether she was willing to fly on a plane and then if she was capable of living in a city characterized by severe, snowy winters, alone. “Won’t he be there?” she’d asked, pointing to the man whose shoes she’d briefly occupied, but who had yet to say a word to her.

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu) (speaker), Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative perspective flashes back to the first time that Ashima met Ashoke, when he visited her house as a potential suitor for a marriage arranged by their parents. Asked to undertake a massive journey across the world, Ashima's courageous response shows a deep trust, and also a naivete regarding relationships and the world at large. The two have never met before, never spoken, but will soon embark on a lifetime together, in sometimes difficult, lonely circumstances. From her question, which does not even address Ashoke, it is clear that Ashima does not even know her future husband's name—and yet she is willing to stake her future on their pending marriage. This vision of love, in which individual choice is not an important factor, will seem impossible to understand to the pair's future children, who grow up in America with Western ideas of love and romance. 

A moment before this meeting, Ashima put her feet in Ashoke's shoes, seemingly entranced by their foreignness, their connection to this man who might become her husband. This moment of girlish excitement is a glimpse of the sentimental, young Ashima who will become a stern matriarch later in the novel. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

This is the house Ashoke had brought Ashima to eighteen months ago, late one February night after her arrival at Logan Airport. In the dark, through the windows of the taxi, wide awake from jet lag, she could barely make out a thing, apart from heaps of broken snow glowing like shattered, bluish white bricks on the ground. It wasn’t until morning, stepping briefly outside wearing a pair of Ashoke’s socks under her thin-soled slippers, the frigid New England chill piercing her inner ears and jaw, that she’d had her first real glimpse of America: Leafless trees with ice-covered branches. Dog urine and excrement embedded in the snow banks. Not a soul on the street.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote offers a flashback to Ashima's first impression of her new home with Ashoke in America. It is clear that this a completely alien landscape for the bewildered Ashima, who is fresh off the plane from India. While there is a general stereotype that for those who immigrate here, America is seen as a golden land of opportunity—and Ashoke takes this view—for Ashima, the frozen New England suburb is a dismal, ugly, and unwelcoming place, a violent shock to her system echoed by the frigid chill that pierces her body when she ventures outside. 

Her thin-soled slippers, traditional Indian footwear, show that she is completely unready for this new climate. The fact that she wraps her feet in her new husband's socks is also an echo of the moment before their first encounter, when she tried on his shoes in secret—and a hint at the growing intimacy between the couple. This is a small comfort, though, when Ashima is faced with what from her perspective are the desolate, empty, excrement-filled streets of Cambridge, so different from the warm, bustling streets she knows in India.

Chapter 6 Quotes

At times… he is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own. It isn’t simply the fact that his parents don’t know about Maxine… it is his knowledge that apart from their affluence, Gerald and Lydia are secure in a way his parents will never be. He cannot imagine his parents sitting at Lydia and Gerald’s table, enjoying Lydia’s cooking, appreciating Gerald’s selection of wine. He cannot imagine them contributing to one of their dinner party conversations. And yet here he is, night after night, a welcome addition to the Ratliff’s universe, doing just that.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Maxine Ratliff, Lydia Ratliff, Gerald Ratliff
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes Gogol’s moments of inner conflict about the new home he has found for himself in New York, in his girlfriend’s townhouse with the sophisticated and elegant Ratliff family. Maxine’s parents, Gerald and Lydia, who are at the head of this new home, are opposite in every way from Gogol’s own parents—they are embedded in the American upper class, secure in their wealth and whiteness, openly affectionate with one another, and luxurious in their taste. Feeling so at home here, Gogol is aware of the immense distance that separates this lifestyle from the one he grew up with. He is fundamentally different from his parents, has had radically different life experiences than them, and can now enter a world that will never be theirs. This power is at once intoxicating and disorienting for Gogol, who has worked hard to distance himself from his roots, rebelling against his parents’ lifestyle and isolating himself in New York with Maxine. Yet now that he is successful in his rebellion, Gogol finds himself feeling guilty about his success.

Gogol's relationship with Maxine has also been linked from the start with his struggle to form an identity. Gogol—or Nikhil, now—has transformed himself since meeting her, changing his lifestyle to match hers and reveling in the new sense of home and belonging that she is able to give him, for a time. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

Now, sitting together at the kitchen table at six-thirty every evening, the hour feeling more like midnight through the window, his father’s chair empty, this meatless meal is the only thing that makes sense. There is no question of skipping this meal; on the contrary, for ten evenings the three of them are strangely hungry, eager to taste the blandness on their plates.

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Sonali (Sonia) Ganguli
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, we see the Ganguli family learning to live together without Ashoke, who has recently died. The remaining family members are eating their nightly meal, a traditional meatless and bland dish consumed after the death of a loved one. Gogol’s perspective leads the narrative again here, as the mourning protagonist notices a significant shift in his own attitude toward the Indian traditions he has scorned and discarded for so long. He now welcomes the comfort that this ritual provides, the connection that it gives him to his family, and to his father’s heritage. 

The family's mourning for Ashoke is intense, leading to days that feel immensely long (so that six-thirty is more like midnight) and empty. Their ritualized togetherness is a comfortable relief, an automatic exercise that links them together, when they have recently been scattered.

Chapter 8 Quotes

It strikes him that there is no term for what they once were to each other. Their parents were friends, not they. She is a family acquaintance but she is not family. Their contact until tonight has been artificial, imposed, something like his relationship to his cousins in India but lacking even the justification of blood ties. Until they’d met tonight, he had never seen her outside the context of her family, or she his. He decides that it is her very familiarity that makes him curious about her, and as he begins to walk west, to the subway, he wonders when he might see her again.

Related Characters: Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Moushumi Mazoomdar
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we see the beginning of Gogol’s newest romantic interest after an early encounter with Moushumi. Gogol is now swinging in the opposite direction of his previous relationships, still searching for identity in his romantic life but now looking to connect again with his roots, rather than cut himself off from them as he had with Maxine. This new instinct seems to be a reaction to the death of his father, which was accompanied by a newfound interest in the traditions of his family and an anxiety that he was throwing away a major part of his identity by essentially abandoning his family for Maxine. 

Now, Gogol has done what would have been unthinkable for him at nearly any other point in his life—gone on a blind date arranged by his mother. This arrangement echoes the Indian tradition, and suggests that Gogol is ready now to listen to Ashima, whom he has been so embarrassed of since his teenage years. Moushumi and Gogol are linked by their Indian heritage (and their parents' friendships), but also by their shared heritage as first-generation Americans, who grew up with the same half-executed traditions and the same desire to escape from these remnants of their family's customs. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

He’d confessed to her that he still felt guilty at times for changing his name, more so now that his father was dead. And she’d assured him that it was understandable, that anyone in his place would have done the same. But now it’s become a joke to her. Suddenly he regrets having ever told Moushumi; he wonders whether she’ll proclaim the story of his father’s accident to the table as well. By morning, half the people in the room will have forgotten. It will be a tiny, odd fact about him, an anecdote, perhaps, for a future dinner party. This is what upsets him most.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Moushumi Mazoomdar
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, a rift grows between Gogol and Moushumi after she tells the story of his name change (from Gogol to Nikhil) to the room at a dinner party with a set of intellectual friends of hers that he despises. This is an emotional betrayal, from Gogol's perspective, since the story was an intensely private one, with a huge amount of significance for Gogol. Moushumi treats it like a funny aside to her friends, which leaves Gogol with the unshakeable feeling that she misunderstood its importance, or is belittling something that, for him, is a major part of his identity. He had believed that this conflicted relationship to his past and identity confusion was something that Moushumi, as a fellow first-generation American from similar circumstances, would understand. The disappointment and regret that Gogol feels in this moment might extend to his decision to marry Moushumi—it seems clear now that the two of them are different in many ways, and that his reasons for marrying her, in search of a part of his identity he thought he had lost, may not have been sufficient to keep them together.  

Chapter 10 Quotes

She believed that he would be incapable of hurting her as Graham had. After years of clandestine relationships, it felt refreshing to court in a fishbowl, to have the support of her parents from the very start, the inevitability of an unquestioned future, of marriage, drawing them along. And yet the familiarity that had once drawn her to him has begun to keep her at bay. Though she knows it’s not his fault, she can’t help but associate him, at times, with a sense of resignation, with the very life she has resisted, has struggled so mightily to leave behind.

Related Characters: Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Moushumi Mazoomdar
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lahiri begins to follow Moushumi's perspective, and this quote reveals her growing dissatisfaction with Gogol, and the ways in which Moushumi's reasons for marrying him in the first place echo the rebellious, conflicting quest for an identity that Gogol regularly manifests in his own romantic choices. For years, Moushumi made every effort to rebel against the expectation that had been placed on her since she was only a young girl: that she would marry a suitable Indian man. Counterintuitively, it then seems that Moushumi's decision to marry Gogol was in some ways a rebellion against her own rebellious instincts, driven by fear and sadness after she was left on her wedding day by her previous fiance, Graham. Now, though, the lack of danger that had drawn her to Gogol, and his association with a stable identity from her past, is increasingly driving her away again. As Gogol's own relationship choices have shown, identity confusion renders finding meaningful love especially difficult. 

She wonders if she is the only woman in her family ever to have betrayed her husband, to have been unfaithful. This is what upsets her most to admit: that the affair causes her to feel strangely at peace, the complication of it calming her, structuring her day.

Related Characters: Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Moushumi Mazoomdar
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:
In this quote, Moushumi considers her feelings in the wake of an affair that she has struck up with an old flame of hers, Dimitri Desjardins. Oddly enough, this rebellious act—an act of betrayal, essentially—is comfortable for Moushumi, who is becoming faithful again to her own sense of identity as a rebellious, sensual, modern woman. In mourning after her failed wedding, Moushumi had then found Gogol, who was also in mourning, still recovering from the death of his father. For both of them, marriage became a means of trying on an identity they had previously rejected. Moushumi, though, comes to regret her choice, since her identity as an intellectual, cosmopolitan woman feels at odds with Gogol's, or at least with the return to a traditional Indian heritage that he represents for her. Instability and transgression, then, are key parts of Moushumi's identity, and so she returns to them with this affair in a way that feels almost like a homecoming. She is guilty, and thinks of her family's reaction with unease, but is only fueled on by these feelings, since they render her act all the more rebellious. 
Chapter 12 Quotes

Ashima feels lonely suddenly, horribly, permanently alone, and briefly, turned away from the mirror, she sobs for her husband. She feels overwhelmed by the thought of the move she is about to make, to the city that was once home and is now in its own way foreign. She feels both impatience and indifference for all the days she still must live, for something tells her she will not go quickly as her husband did.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu)
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

Lahiri returns to Ashima's perspective, and describes her experience of life alone in the house now that Ashoke has passed away. Ashima has decided to move back to India to be with what remains of her extended family, and is also mourning the loss of this home she has built with such dogged perseverance in America. For her whole life, Ashima has lived with either her family in India or her husband Ashoke, and now she is entering a new period of her life, in which she will need to find other forms of companionship. In this moment she is afraid of that new period, but resigned to it at the same time, sensing that she still has many years left to live.

The depth of Ashima’s emotion is an indication of just how deeply she loved her husband, and the extent to which their lives were intimately intertwined. This is the best example of true love in the novel, and it blossomed from a traditional arranged marriage, founded in family and custom.

And then the house will be occupied by strangers, and there will be no trace that they were ever there, no house to enter, no name in the telephone directory. Nothing to signify the years his family has lived here, no evidence of the effort, the achievement it had been. It’s hard to believe that his mother is really going, that for months she will be so far. He wonders how his parents had done it, leaving their respective families behind, seeing them so seldom, dwelling unconnected, in a perpetual state of expectation, of longing.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Gogol imagines the house he grew up in being passed along to a new family, now that his mother has made the decision to move back to India for six months of each year. The anchor that his father’s photograph had been in this place will be removed, and the house—such a major part of his past and present identity—will be transferred away as if it had never belonged to the Gangulis, with no remnant of their name to mark its history. Gogol now has a new appreciation for his parents’ struggle, as immigrants, to turn this house into a home, and a different kind of respect for them accompanies it. Now that he is losing his childhood home, he can finally understand how difficult it must have been for them to leave theirs and come here to America, sacrificing stability and comfort to live in the isolation of this new country. Gogol finally sees how important family and a family home are in life, forming the roots of a stable identity—and, ironically, it is in this moment that his roots are being removed. Still, his greater self-awareness about the importance of his roots and increasing reconciliation with his heritage suggests hope for his continued search for a meaningful identity.  

It is as if a building he’d been responsible for designing had collapsed for all to see. And yet he can’t really blame her. They had both acted on the same impulse, that was their mistake. They had both sought comfort in each other, in their shared world, perhaps for the sake of novelty, or out of fear that that world was slowly dying. Still, he wonders how he’s arrived at all this… His time with her seems like a permanent part of him that no longer has any relevance, or currency. As if that time were a name he’d ceased to use.

Related Characters: Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Moushumi Mazoomdar
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Gogol reflects on the end of his marriage to Moushumi. Their relationship collapses finally after he discovers her affair with Dimitri, and ends in a way that is deeply embarrassing for him, since their union had been celebrated so publicly by friends and family. He diagnoses the reasons behind the failure of their marriage here, recognizing that their reasons for marrying were fundamentally flawed; both of them sought stability and identity in the other, without having formed a stable identity for themselves first. It was a relationship built out of fear, nostalgia, and curiosity, rather than true love. Now that part of his life feels strangely and inexplicably distant from Gogol.

By describing this time as if it “were a name he’d ceased to use,” Gogol again underlines the significance of names—the various names that reflect a variety of distinct identities, formed in cooperation with the people who use them. Monu and Mithu, for instance, the Indian familial pet names of Ashoke and Ashima, only exist in the context of those characters' relationships to their families back home. Now that the context of Gogol's relationship to Moushumi has evaporated, their time together has no more meaning, since what meaning it had for him was formed in cooperation with her.