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 Ashima, the Indian mother of the story, is born and raised in Calcutta, West Bengali which she calls home; that is until her arranged marriage with Ashoke Ganguli causes her to travel across the globe to North America and settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the early stages of this transition, Ashima struggles with leaving her entire family behind to now live with a man whom she does not know, in a place that she is unfamiliar with. As she assimilates into the American culture, she experiences an internal conflict of leaving her Indian heritage behind while adapting to the American way of life. In addition, with the birth of her two children in America, she finds it hard to maintain a close-knit relationship among them, as she had with her family in Calcutta. As a family-oriented and rooted woman in her culture, Ashima attempts to influence her children to appreciate the customs of their culture, although the American culture seems to remain supreme to the children. However, it was not until an unfortunate event that truly caused Ashima to accept pieces of America, eventually making it another home in her heart. In the novel “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri, Lahiri provides an informative perspective of cultural assimilation by giving insight into similarities and differences between the Indian and American way of life through the lens of Ashima Ganguli to depict Bengali observations of American culture, the struggle of assimilating to American culture, and the final acceptance of a cultural identity that blends the two.

In the beginning, the novel opens up with Ashima stepping into motherhood, a life-changing event, in an uncomfortable American hospital which to her is “strange [considering] that…most people enter to either suffer or to die” (Lahiri 4). As a Bengali tradition, “women go home to their parents to give birth, away from their husbands and in-laws and household cares” (Lahiri 4). In between contractions, Ashima pinpoints everything that contrasts her Bengali culture, starting from the lack of her parent’s company, hearing a couple in the same predicament exchange “I love you’s,” a phrase unheard between the Gangulis, all the way to the foreign medical terminology. As she embarks on motherhood and waits for the baby, she realizes “for being a foreigner…is a sort of lifelong pregnancy- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts ( Lahiri 49). So far Ashima is not fond of America because she still feels left out and finds it hard for anyone in America to understand her Bengali way of life.

Furthermore, Ashima’s first momentous occasion in America continues downhill when the time comes to name the Ganguli’s firstborn. In Bengali, deciding on a name for a baby does not happen right after birth; matter of fact, it could take 10 days until the baby receives a name ( Unfortunately, America does not run this way and Ashima discovers that “[releasing] a baby from the hospital [can not happen] without a birth certificate…[which] needs a name” (Lahiri 27). In America, “the symbol of heritage and lineage” portrays respect; whereas, in India, this is a disgrace, for an “individual name is scared [and] inviolable” (Lahiri 28). Ashima patiently waits for a handwritten letter from her mother holding the unique name of her child; however, since the doctors press Ashima and Ashoke to decide, they have no choice, and Ashoke stumbles upon the name “Gogol” (Lahiri 28). This experience is very impactful in Ashima’s life because this is her first time breaking Indian custom and it does not settle evenly with her.

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During the stages of assimilation, there is often a feeling of solidarity and a compelling motive to return home. Ashima finds it hard to assimilate into this new world, raising a child, alone while her husband, comfortable, attending his job as a professor. “Her life, in Cambridge… already [takes] a toll [on her], evident from her “[lean] face, and [more noticeable] features [after] the wedding” (Lahiri 33). Often, Ashoke finds [Ashima] in bed, rereading her parents’ letters…quietly crying (Lahiri 33). To make matters worse, “bad news… always manages [to reach the phone]” and by now “Ashoke and Ashima are both [orphans]” (Lahiri 63). Memories of their parents and relatives are all they have and “even those family members who continue to live to seem dead somehow, always invisible, impossible to touch” (Lahiri 63). With days of being alone, “again in the gloomy three-room apartment” (Lahiri 32) Ashima reaches a point of American acceptance that “there is no one to sweep the floor or to do the dishes, or wash clothes, or shop for groceries, or prepare a meal on the days she is [in exhaust] or homesick or cross (Lahiri 32). Slowly but surely, Ashima realizes one must persevere and be able to be independent in America.

Years pass, and Ashima brings a baby girl, Sonia, into the world. The Ganguli are finally understanding, accepting, and adapting to American culture quite well. They meet other American Bengalis “who know Ashima and Ashoke,[whereas] members of that other former life [know them ] as Monu and Mithu, slowly dwindle” (Lahiri 63). Advancing over the hump in this transition takes place during the holidays when they stray away from Indian culture food. For instance, on Thanksgiving, the Ganguli “learn to roast turkeys, albeit rubbed with garlic and cumin and cayenne” (Lahiri 64). For Christmas, they “nail a wreath to their door…to wrap woolen scarves around snowmen” and “color boil eggs violet and pink for Easter and hide them around the house’ (Lahiri 64). In addition, Ashima “makes sandwiches with bologna or roast beef” and even prepares “an American dinner once a week as a treat,” consisting of “Shake’n Bake chicken or Hamburger with ground lamb” (Lahiri 65). Ashima witnesses the American change right in front of her eyes within her children who “sound just like Americans, expertly conversing in a language that still at times confounds [Ashoke and Ashima]” (Lahiri 65). With the help of Ashima’s children, she, herself, becomes more open to American traditions and begins to blend them into her life.

Unfortunately, life takes a turn of events for Ashima when she is struck by the news of her husband’s abrupt calamity. While Ashoka lives away in Cleveland for his job, his minor stomach pain causes him to visit the hospital but he extends his stay as a heart attack takes his last breath. Nothing could prepare Ashima for this devastating event. She must learn to provide for her family and truly be a strong, independent, widow. With her children and American friends’ comfort, she makes it through the mourning process. Reflecting on life with her husband, Ashima “[knows] why [Ashoke] travels to Cleveland….to teach [her] how to live alone” (Lahiri 183). Ashoke knows Ashima needs more time to assimilate, so his going away trips are teaching her to adapt to this new way of life alone, just like he once did.

For the most part, Ashima handles being thrown into a new world just like anyone else would. Cultural assimilation, particularly Indian, initiates with the migration into the “most remote and unpredictable places in America (Editorial Native). Lahiri provides readers with insight into cultural assimilation through the lens of Ashima Ganguli. Leaving a home that takes up the majority of Ashima’s life for a new country she is oblivious to is difficult. Ashima encounters various challenges dealing with “the survival of Native traditional culture” (Editorial Natives) that, at times, push her to the edge of doubt and give up; however, those experiences offer self-evaluation and tests, shaping her into the woman she is now. With time comes patience and patience, acceptance. Ashima, slowly but surely, fades away from the judgmental and observant Bengali woman in the American world to “the American Indian walking today” (Editorial Natives) who accepts and blends the two traditions into her everyday life. Furthermore, Ashima adopts America as her home away from home, carrying a new set of memories that will never be forgotten. The ongoing journey of Cultural assimilation creates a valuable result of “Indigenousness [as] the reality of an identity that has many dimensions” (Editorial Natives) which shapes America into the melting pot it is known for.

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