Homesickness can be defined as the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home. The frantic attempt to recreate the previous life leads to depression and a loss of identity. Distraught and alienated in America, Ashima pushes her Bengali heritage upon her children, Gogol and Sonia, in an effort to lessen her homesickness throughout The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Ashima completely rejects the bewildering American culture that is thrust upon her and becomes depressed and homesick.
These characteristics cause her to be very miserable in her new home on Pemberton Road as she wishes she could be surrounded by the Bengali culture she grew up with and loved so dearly. Furthermore, this sense of homesickness and absence of her native culture causes her to force her ways upon her children in an effort to recreate the feeling of a life she abandoned many years earlier, yet she is only to be disappointed when her children reject that heritage.
First and foremost, Ashima has been homesick since the day she found out she was leaving Calcutta, India to live with her husband Ashoke in America. This feeling of homesickness grew ferociously throughout the years she lived in America, a world that lacked the Bengali culture she yearned. For example, Lahiri writes how Ashoke would leave a cup of tea on the bedside table next to his wife where she is lying “listless and silent” and when he returned “he would find her still lying there, the tea untouched” (11).
This displays how deeply depressed Ashima feels due to her nostalgia and how it took a toll on her mentally as well as physically. The only time she finally started going out of the house and found some happiness was when her son Gogol was born. To further describe Ashima’s unhappiness, Lahiri writes “before Gogol’s birth, her days had followed no visible pattern. She would spend hours in the apartment, napping, sulking… but now the days that had once dragged… are consumed with Gogol… ” (35).
After Gogol was born, Ashima had someone to put her full attention on, a routine she could follow, making the days go by faster and a little less lonely. Now, instead of sitting at home alone in the dark crying reading the letters her parents have sent her, she would go on walks with Gogol and sit in the park admiring the day. Gogol gave Ashima something she had not had in a very long time, happiness and a purpose to live. Thus, a lifelong pursuit to recreate the Bengali culture she longed for in her children’s lives began.
Furthermore, not only was the nostalgia of her home and culture deeply depressing Ashima, but she was also distressed by the fact that she was an alien, all alone in a foreign land she has no desire to be in without the support of any extended family. She was an outsider in her new world, leading her misery to overwhelm her character. Her distaste for American culture, as well as preference of her own, can be seen in Judith Caesar’s statement by which, “the material world of America seems to be a source of unhappiness to Ashima… thus throughout the book, she struggles to… dapt herself to life in the country to which she has come”(4).
Moreover, Ashima is in a continuous battle with herself, fighting every day in order to try and overcome her dreadful feelings for the American society she has to raise her children in. Caesar also discusses the identity of the self and how it is hard to recover it when you are torn away from what you love. This sense of “self” is what is making it extremely difficult for Ashima to adapt to another “home. ” In addition, by Tamara Bhalla describes the difficulty immigrants have with adapting to an alien land or culture.
She does this by quoting Lahiri stating, “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… ” (qtd. In Bhalla 120). By including this quote and then furthering her point by continuing this comparison Bhalla is able to show how challenging adapting to a new culture truly is. However, motherhood in a foreign land also saddens Ashima. Dahiya adds onto this discovery as she states, “the thought of bringing up a baby in an alien land terrifies [Ashima)” (501).
In an effort to decrease this fear as well as to decrease her homesickness, Ashima does everything in her power to recreate the culture she grew up with and misses when her children are born. Examples of this can be found throughout the novel, whether it be from the day Gogol is born and her husband, Ashoke, and her struggle to name him, how Ashima cooks only Indian food for her family and enrolls Gogol in Bengali lesson and forced him to go to them until he was an adult, and her insist on planning a traditional Indian wedding for Gogol.
The constant Bengali dinner parties they would attend or host as a family on every Saturday is another instance where Ashima is trying to recreate her old culture for her children. For example, the dinner parties would consist of only Bengali families and friends, Bengali food, language, customs and culture. By making Gogol and Sonia go to these parties Ashima was trying to replace the family members back in Calcutta with new Bengali families in America, as well as expose them to controlled environments Ashima deemed fit for her “perfect Bengali family.
Unfortunately, Ashimas efforts were of no use as her children, Gogol and Sonia, rejected her and Ashoke’s culture. This can be shown in an article by Himadri Lahiri in which she discusses the relationship between the first and second generation Indian Americans as well as the struggles the family faces within themselves. Furthermore, it discusses the differences between Ashima and Ashoke and their children, as well as how their children disapprove of their parent’s culture due to the fact that they were born and raised in American society.
In addition, by rejecting their heritage, Gogol and Sonia crush Ashima’s hopes and dreams of recreating the culture she longs so desperately for them to embrace themselves, which once again leaves her depressed and homesick. An example of how Gogol rejects his heritage and Ashima’s wishes, is when he dates a bold, American girl named Maxine. By dating her, staying with her and her family instead of his own, as well as ignoring his mom’s phone calls, Gogol is rejecting his family and all of Ashima’s effort to create the “perfect Bengali family.
This is further shown when Gogol refuses to go to the train station with his family to see his dad off on his trip, which is an Indian tradition. Instead he went on a vacation with Maxine, once again rejecting his roots for the American society he grew up in. In conclusion, there is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time of one’s life when in a state of complete misery. Ashima became a victim of such misery as her husband plucked her form her homeland in Calcutta and forced her to assimilate to the incongruent American culture.
Nothing about the American lifestyle appeals to Ashima, leading her to reject it and fully embrace the traditional Bengali heritage instead. By doing so Ashima realizes the dreadful truth that she does not, under any circumstances, want to raise her children in this foreign land she loathes and is so far away from the people she loves. Since she cannot move back to her beloved home land Ashima does everything in her power to recreate her culture in America. She even goes as far as to try to replace the family members left behind in her old life.
She does this so that she may raise her children surrounded by the heritage she is so nostalgic for. Although Ashima has good intentions, her main goal is to influence her children in such a way so that she may have a sense of family like the one she left behind many years earlier. Unfortunately, this desperate lifelong pursuit to reduce her sense of homesickness by forcing her culture upon her children leads to Gogol and Sonia preferring the American culture to their parents. Which eventually causes them to reject their parent’s heritage leaving Ashima broken hearted, drowning in her own nostalgia.