Images of Life and Death in “The Namesake”

Life and death. While many texts explore this dichotomy, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri complicates these terms by juxtaposing them in relation to trauma. The Namesake explores a family of Indian immigrants in the United States and their adjustment to a new culture, parenthood, cultural conflicts, and trauma. In the first chapter of the novel, Ashoke describes his near death experience from years prior, in which he almost died after a train went off course. This leads to a conflict with his new role as a father.

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Ashoke’s trauma conflicts with his desire to be the best parent possible, as his first moments with his newborn son are infiltrated with violent images. This uncomfortable contrast suggests that Ashoke has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his near death experience.

As Ashoke waits for his son’s birth, he connects the arrival of new life with his traumatic experience, saying:

“Although it is Ashima who carries the child, he, too, feels heavy, with the thought of life, of his life and the life about to come from it… Again he tastes the dust on his tongue, sees the twisted train, the giant overturned iron wheels.” (Lahiri 30)

Ashoke fully identifies with Ashima’s experience as a pregnant woman in these thoughts, and feels heavy in a metaphoric sense. While Ashima feels the actual weight of a child, Ashoke feels an emotional weight of the responsibility of parenthood. “Heaviness” has negative connotations, making the birth of his son sound like a burden.

The nouns of “dust,” “twisted train,” and “giant overturned wheels” create a feeling of entrapment. The alliteration of “twisted train” emphasizes the impending doom, as it creates a rushed, uneasy sound.This arrival of new life is complicated by his trauma, as he has experienced what it is like to be on the verge of death. The imagery of dust on one’s tongue evokes not being able to breathe. “Giant overturned wheels” creates a feeling of smallness and imminent doom.FATHERS & FATHERHOOD: Greatest Quotes About Fathers and ...

These disturbing images of death are juxtaposed with the arrival of his newborn son. Although the birth of his son should fill Ashoke with joy, the unresolved trauma complicates this experience. The imagery of the final sensory experiences before his ‘death’ articulate how raw the experience is in Ashoke’s head. These intrusive thoughts suggest an impending conflict between Ashoke’s ideal role as a father and the trauma he needs to resolve before fully embracing those responsibilities. B5.

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin, 2003


One thought on “Images of Life and Death in “The Namesake”

  1. I am particularly interested in Lily’s point about entrapment. She writes, “the nouns of ‘dust,’ ‘twisted train,’ and ‘giant overturned wheels’ create a feeling of entrapment” in reference to Ashoke. Additionally, this theme relates to Gogol, Ashoke’s son. Gogol’s feeling of entrapment can be seen in the scene I used to analyze in my blog post. Upon arriving for his first day of school, Gogol does not respond to his parents’ chosen “good name,” Nikhil (Lahiri 58). His unresponsiveness is preceded by Gogol’s refusal to go to school because his “parents want [him] to have another name in school” (Lahiri 59). This results in Gogol missing the first two weeks of kindergarten because he feels entrapped in a tradition he does not believe in. His parents, Ashoke and Ashima, educate their son about the Bengali tradition of having multiple names. However, “Gogol doesn’t want a new name” preferring to “claim to have a stomachache, even vomiting one day” to avoid going to school rather than follow this family tradition (Lahiri 57,56). Gogol believes physical illness, something people normally don’t wish for, is better than complying with this tradition of change. Gogol’s feeling of entrapment causes him to act irrationally. Even though his father reassures him, “To make and your mother, you will never be anyone but Gogol,” the boy does not want to change who he is (Lahiri 57). Once Mrs. Lapidus assures Gogol that he can go by his pet name in school, he is freed from his entrapment. Put at ease, he “leaves his legacy” as Gogol in textbooks and “signs his work in the lower right-hand corner,” taking pride in the name he has grown up with and that has become an extension of his identity (Lahiri 60). This is an identity that becomes more American by the minute.

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