Cultural Identity in the Namesake

Mira Nair's 2006 motion picture the Namesake puts across intense feelings with regard to the problems an immigrant comes across as a result of his or her position. The novel's protagonist, Gogol Ganguli, and his parents have trouble connecting with each other because he feels that he belongs to a different world and that it would be impossible for him to adapt to the lifestyle that his parents want him to adopt. The film's storyline spans for several decades, presenting viewers with scenes in both Calcutta and New York in an attempt to provide a more complex understanding concerning the search for a personal and cultural identity.

The transition

The moment when it becomes obvious that Ashoke and Ashima need to change in order to be able to integrate the American society is especially shocking. The couple virtually has to go from living in a colorful and friendly environment to living in a bleak community where they have very little friends to comfort them. Viewers practically join the couple in feeling the terrible sentiment of forced change and of living in a world where nothing feels familiar.

In spite of the fact that they both realize that they need to change a lot about themselves, they are reluctant to abandon their thinking. This is best emphasized by the moment when the two eat a bowl of Rice Krispies garnished with a series of condiments that Ashima adds in an attempt to make the food taste more like 'home'. This scene is essential in making viewers gain a better comprehension regarding how the couple is willing to adapt. However, it also brings on a stronger image of the couple by making it seem that they are willing to adapt, but that they are reluctant to simply be assimilated by the American culture.

Ashima and Ashoke initially have trouble accepting each other, taking into account that their marriage was arranged. However, the foreign experience brings them closer together as it becomes obvious that it is in their best interest to stay together and support each-other in order to experience as little suffering as possible as a result of leaving their home. Nair is successful in having viewers feel that they stand alongside of the Ganguli family as it struggles to overcome a series of problems associated with the struggle to preserve its cultural identity.

Cultural and personal identity

Cultural identity is one of the dominant topics throughout the film and it is difficult to determine whether or not it has a positive impact on the characters. Both Ashima and Ashoke experience difficulty at time preserving the values that they were taught to believe in. The two regard the American culture as being hostile precisely because they were raised in an environment that promoted different principles. The fact that they exaggerate at times by trying to emphasize how it is wrong for a Bengali to adopt American values backfires on them. Moreover, this attitude toward life and culture prevents them from feeling happy with their general condition.

Whether it is because of their Bengali background or whether it is because of the open-mindedness present in most Americans, the Ganguli family constantly seems to have trouble expressing feelings. Western lifestyle heavily contrasts eastern sensibility as the Ganguli family gets a taste of both cultures and as it influenced by them. Even with the fact that this family has strong feelings and does not hesitate to express them openly, its members appear to feel a sort of awkwardness when they put across their sentiments.

One is likely to consider that there is a feel of realism present throughout the motion picture as the experiences that characters go through seem likely to happen and as it is almost impossible for a viewer to refrain from feeling a strange kind of empathy toward the characters. What is especially intriguing about the Ganguli family is that it rarely presents viewers with scenes where they actually converse with each other concerning their feelings. This happens in spite of the fact that its members are close and despite that they feel strong emotions when they are together.

Gogol is one of the most interesting characters in the film because Nair designs him as being the product of American and Bengali cultures being brought together. Gogol is virtually a hybrid -- the product of two cultures coming together and influencing an individual to be confused with regard to his cultural identity. It is as if he is raised in two worlds at the same time and as if he would have to choose whether he would be more interested in respecting one or the other. This is an Indian-American who feels that it would be pointless for him to express any kind of interest in his family's traditions and who (whether because he does not want to or because he simply is unable to) does not understand the Bengali way of life.

Gogol goes through a series of phases before he finally understands who his parents are, who he is, and the reason for the awkwardness between them. The protagonist is divided between two worlds and even though he feels that it would be perfectly normal for him to act in accordance with American cultural values, he cannot stop thinking about how it is actually his duty to respect Bengali traditions. While some people have lived for most of their lives in a single place and were never able to identify with a particular cultural identity, matters are even more critical when considering Gogol. He virtually has trouble identifying with either of the cultures that he interacts with and mostly allows the surrounding environment to determine his position with regard to life in general. It is safe to say that Gogol is the product of the environment that he lives in: he is part American and part Bengali, but he feels that he belongs to neither of these two cultures.

Nair demonstrates that the immigrant experience is especially important when considering the concept of identity. The very title of the film is meant to emphasize the importance that tradition plays for some characters. Gogol's name is important for his parents, but the protagonist seems reluctant to appreciate it. Moreover, he believes that it is a burden because people who he interacts with make fun of him by associating his name with various insults.

The fact that Ashima and Ashoke revisit Calcutta on a series of occasions makes it difficult for them to integrate the U.S. community. It is practically as if they lived somewhere in between the two locations and they would not really have anything to do with either of them. Instead of feeling connected with both cultures, Gogol's parents practically seem to believe that there is little to no difference between the two locations as they become older. This feeling is amplified by the way the film's storyline advances, as Nair introduces techniques that influence viewers in thinking similarly to the Bengali couple. One is likely to feel confused about the difference between Calcutta and New York, as it gradually becomes difficult to understand whether or not Ashima and Ashoke have a stronger connection to the Bengali culture or to the American culture.

In contrast to how many might be inclined to believe, this film is not meant to depict a battle between West and East. It is actually intended to relate to the story of individuals who feel that they belong somewhere in between these two ideas. It would be impossible for them to identify with only one culture and they thus have trouble finding a personal identity.

Gogol's decision to discover his background at the time when his father dies ends in failure, taking into account that he is unable to feel…