The Namesake

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The Indian Immigrant Experience 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.
The Indian Immigrant Experience Theme Icon

The experiences of the Ganguli family in America—a country that for some of them is an intensely foreign environment—offer a glimpse of life as an Indian immigrant to the United States.

What is familiar for most readers in America is deeply unfamiliar to Ashoke and Ashima, who therefore provide a unique perspective on seemingly everyday things within American society. Husband and wife have differing reactions to the barrage of new customs that greets them in America, and together they embody two sides of the immigrant experience. Ashoke is often amused and fascinated by the world around him in America, and prospers first as a student and then as a professor. Although he remains attached to the family’s Bengali traditions, he has always been inclined to travel, and is not actively homesick. Ashima, on the other hand, misses her life in India intensely, and often finds life in Massachusetts to be cold and lonely. She finds it difficult to understand the customs of those around her, and clings to her correspondence with her family in India, as well as the family she has in America: her husband and children. Ashima in many ways anchors the narrative, providing an emotional center and working most actively to hold her family together and maintain their Bengali traditions. The intense isolation she often feels demonstrates the difficulty that can be involved in fitting into an entirely new culture while struggling to retain one’s own cultural heritage.

Gogol, Sonia, and later Moushumi then represent the next generation of immigrants, the first American-born generation, for whom assimilation—the process of adapting to American culture—comes much more naturally. The Ganguli children grow up speaking English natively, unlike their parents, and are much more interested in American food and pop culture, since they have attended American schools their whole lives. For them, it is India that seems foreign. On their visits to family, they are homesick for American food and confused by common Indian rituals. However, their divided loyalties often lead to an internal struggle for a unified identity.

This shift, within one generation, is a common theme in immigrant fiction, and raises questions about the gradual disappearance of the home culture. Is assimilation the best option? The tension between retaining past traditions and moving into an “American” future is one that underlies much of The Namesake. Although they are born American, the members of the second generation (Gogol and Sonia) remain in the category of “outsider” or “other” to the majority of Americans, who focus on the foreign background to which Gogol and Sonia themselves may or may not feel any connection at all. Gogol encounters this feeling most acutely when a guest at a dinner party in New Hampshire assumes that he was born in India. If they are, by force of circumstance, outsiders in both of the cultures to which they owe allegiance, where, if anywhere, can the members of this generation find their home? The quest for a home—like the quest for a true name—is at the core of the decisions made by Gogol, and then by Moushumi later in the story.

The Indian Immigrant Experience ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Namesake related to the theme of The Indian Immigrant Experience.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual there’s something missing.

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Ashima is preparing a rough approximation of a traditional Indian street food using ingredients she can cobble together in her Cambridge apartment. This snack is partly a pregnant craving, a symbol of motherhood, and partly a symbol of a deeper, all-consuming craving for the homeland that she has only recently left behind to join her husband, Ashoke, in America. The snack represents much more than just nourishment—a life left behind—and so it leaves her feeling lonelier than before, even as it also gives her a brief reminder of what life in the wildly different world that she grew up in was like. In India the snack is superabundant, "spilling" from newspaper cones on every corner; America, by contrast, is a wasteland for Ashima, not the land of plenty that Ashoke sees. She has a persistent sense that something is missing, not just from this culinary experiment, but from her life as a whole in this new land. 

By beginning the novel with Ashima's perspective, Lahiri grounds her tale in the solid foundation provided by this traditionally-minded, stubborn matriarch. Her discomfort and struggle to find a home in the United States help humanize her, creating sympathy for Ashima, who will remain the solid heart of the Ganguli family, even as it grows apart. 


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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

“Lucky boy,” Ashoke remarks, turning the beautifully sewn pages. “Only a few hours old and already the owner of books.” What a difference, he thinks, from the childhood he has known. Ashima thinks the same, though for different reasons. For as grateful as she feels for the company… these acquaintances are only substitutes for the people who really ought to be surrounding them. Without a single grandparent or parent or uncle or aunt at her side, the baby’s birth, like most everything else in America, feels somehow haphazard, only half true. As she strokes and suckles and studies her son, she can’t help but pity him. She has never known of a person entering the world so alone, so deprived.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu) (speaker), Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, we see the major divide between Ashoke and Ashima in their attitude toward America, their new home as a young family. Family friends of the Gangulis have just presented the youngest member of this family, their firstborn son—who is still without a name—with a beautifully illustrated children's book. Ashoke, who has always loved literature, sees this as proof that his new son has been born into a land of prosperity and happiness, where anything can happen. He marvels at how different his son's first moments are from his own past, growing up without access to such luxuries.

While Ashoke celebrates this difference, Ashima is struck by a deep sadness to see everything that her son lacks in this new country. For Ashima, family is the most important thing in life, and to be born alone, without one's extended family, is a great tragedy. Without her family, Ashima is left floundering in the world, unable to function outside of the traditional family structures she knows so well. She has a sense of foreboding and worry for her son, who will grow up without any access to these structures. 

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 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu)
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Ashima is continuing to adjust to her life as an immigrant in America, moving into a new stage now after the birth of Gogol. In this rich metaphor, she compares life as an outsider to a “lifelong pregnancy,” a sort of perpetual state of limbo when she feels suspended, apart from the world. She expects her normal life to resume once this period is over, but the pregnancy of immigrant life has no set term—and so she is in a constant state of discomfort, of unrest, and of intense responsibility without the option to rest and feel "normal." There is something productive and fertile about this waiting, since it brings new opportunities into the world for her children, but for Ashima herself the opportunities of this new life pale in comparison to the perpetual discomfort of being an outsider, feeling forever in between two worlds.  

The reaction of those around her to Ashima's status as an immigrant also contributes to her sense that this is a "sort of lifelong pregnancy"—she is made to feel remarkable or odd, like she needs to be taken care of by those who view her always as an outsider. 

But Gogol is attached to them. For reasons he cannot explain or necessarily understand, these ancient Puritan spirits, these very first immigrants to America, these bearers of unthinkable, obsolete names, have spoken to him, so much so that in spite of his mother’s disgust he refuses to throw them away.

Related Characters: Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli (speaker), Ashima Ganguli (Monu)
Related Symbols: Graves and Graveyards
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

Gogol has just returned from a class field trip to a Puritan graveyard, which was full of the odd names of early immigrants to America. Gogol took rubbings of these graves, much to the dismay of his mother, Ashima, who sees this act as disrespectful and has told him to throw them away. However, in an act of rebellion—one of his first—Gogol decides to keep the grave rubbings spite of his mother's wishes. 

Gogol identifies with the dead Puritans on two levels: first, as immigrants to America, a reminder that almost everyone here arrived from somewhere else, and second as the bearers of strange, now-unheard-of names like his own. Already Gogol is looking for a "namesake," and he finds an odd sense of kinship with these dead Puritans and their ancient names.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Ashima, now Monu, weeps with relief, and Ashoke, now Mithu, kisses his brothers on both cheeks, holds their heads in his hands. Gogol and Sonia know these people, but they do not feel close to them as their parents do. Within minutes, before their eyes Ashoke and Ashima slip into bolder, less complicated versions of themselves, their voices louder, their smiles wider, revealing a confidence that Gogol and Sonia never see on Pemberton Road. “I’m scared, Goggles,” Sonia whispers to her brother in English, seeking his hand and refusing to let go.

Related Characters: Sonali (Sonia) Ganguli (speaker), Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote describes the scene as the Ganguli family arrives in India for an extended visit. Here, the divide between the two immigrant generations within the family is clearly illustrated. For Ashima and Ashoke, who grew up in India, this is an intensely emotional, joyous homecoming that signals a return to the identity with which they feel most comfortable. The parents are transformed, shedding the worry and insecurity that comes with life as an immigrant in the United States, and embracing their extended family. This transformation is signaled in part by the recovery of their old pet names, Monu and Mithu, traditional Indian pet names that signal their close relationship to these family members, from whom they have been separated for so long, divorced from their former identities.

Gogol and Sonia, on the other hand, who were born in America, are frightened by what to them is a strange and foreign land, populated with strange people whose customs are not their own. They too share pet names that signal their closeness to one another—not the traditional Indian ones of their parents, but Americanized nicknames like “Goggles.” Already, within one generation, the children have become foreigners in the land of their parents.

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. 

The family seems to possess every piece of the landscape, not only the house itself but every tree and blade of grass. Nothing is locked, not the main house, or the cabin that he and Maxine sleep in. Anyone could walk in. He thinks of the alarm system that now is installed in his parents’ house, wonders why they cannot relax about their physical surroundings in the same way. The Ratliffs own the moon that floats over the lake, and the sun and the clouds. It is a place that has been good to them, as much a part of them as a member of the family. The idea of returning year after year to a single place appeals to Gogol deeply.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Maxine Ratliff, Lydia Ratliff, Gerald Ratliff
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Gogol describes the Ratliff’s summer home, which strikes him as a sort of paradise on earth. What attracts Gogol so intensely to this place is its sense of permanence and security, the all-pervading certainty that comes, in his mind, with an ancestral home like this one and the wealth and class of the family that inhabits it. Gogol has never felt so entirely at home, since he has always been torn between two identities—the Indian heritage of his parents and the American culture he has grown up in. The Ratliff family’s identity is monolithic, by contrast, linked to this place by an ancient family burying ground that anchors them physically to the American landscape, within which they have thrived. It is the startling sense of ownership that comes with this security, so in contrast to his parents’ own petty worrying, that gives Gogol the impression that the entire forest belongs to the Ratliffs: they are at home here. Never having had a home like this, Gogol is entranced by what he sees, and the identity that this place represents is a major part of what motivates his romantic interest in Maxine. His choice to be here is a rebellion against his parents, and everything they represent.

Chapter 7 Quotes

She passes over two pages filled only with the addresses of her daughter, and then her son. She has given birth to vagabonds. She is the keeper of all these names and numbers now, numbers she once knew by heart, numbers and addresses her children no longer remember.

Related Characters: Ashima Ganguli (Monu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli, Sonali (Sonia) Ganguli
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the novel returns to following Ashima’s perspective, as she writes out Christmas cards on behalf of the scattered members of her family, scanning through her address book and reflecting on her children’s nomadic lifestyles. Ashima is living alone for the first time in her life, separated from Ashoke, who received a fellowship to teach in Cleveland. Lonely at home, she is amazed at how comfortable her children have become—from her perspectiv— with their lack of any permanent home. There is a sense that Ashima feels that her children are strangers to her, insofar as this strange nation they grew up in gave them habits, sensibilities, and customs that she finds entirely foreign.

Nonetheless, Ashima has remained the reliable center point for her wandering children, serving as a beacon of tradition and family life, endeavoring to keep the family connected to its heritage and to one another. Her children take this service for granted at this point in their lives, but that won't remain the case forever. In a few moments Ashima will receive the fateful call, telling her that Ashoke has died, and then she will truly be the only keeper of the memories of her children, who will feel a new need to rediscover their first home as they mourn their father. 

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 is the photograph more than anything that draws Gogol back to the house again and again, and one day, stepping out of the bathroom on his way to bed and glancing at his father’s smiling face, he realizes that this is the closest thing his father has to a grave.

Related Characters: Ashoke Ganguli (Mithu), Gogol/Nikhil Ganguli
Related Symbols: Graves and Graveyards
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Gogol pauses before a photograph of his father, a physical reminder of this man who is no longer a physical part of Gogol’s life. Because, in accordance with Indian tradition, Ashoke’s body was cremated, this photograph—which received an anointment of oil and a garland of flowers during Ashoke’s funeral—is in fact the closest thing to a physical grave that exists for Gogol’s father. Ashoke was always the photographer in the family, eager to preserve the memory of their family vacations, and Gogol was a reluctant subject of these photos—now, however, he appreciates the concrete link this photo gives him to his father’s memory.

Gogol has always felt a distinct lack of anchor in his life, and has been fascinated by graveyards because of the clear, solid link to the past that they provide for family members and descendants of those buried within them. Although he cannot have a grave for Ashoke, this photo makes the Ganguli home in Massachusetts a site of family history, a sort of anchor that changes Gogol's relationship to his mother and his past. He is eager to hold on to this past, now that he has seen how it can fall away from him without warning.  

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.