Namesake and Metamorphosis
The Namesake & the Metamorphosis
Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” and Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” both put across the concept of a family attempting to make it in society, and particularly the concept of a young man trying to discover his identity in contrast to that of his close ones. However, whereas the former’s storyline flows smoothly and provides readers with sufficient information for them to be able to understand it systematically, the latter involves a great deal of detail in his text, confusing readers and making it difficult for them to identify the main elements that the author wants to express.
One of the themes that are the most obvious in both manuscripts is the one relating to alienation, given that both Gogol Ganguli and Gregor Samsa have trouble discovering their place in society. Kafka’s attempt at describing an account involving alienation is probably more complex because of the writer’s background and because of the relationship he had with his father.
Given that Kafka’s childhood memories were dominated by his father’s authoritarian behavior, it is probable that the author attempted to channel the inferiority he felt during his teenage years through thinking of himself at that time as being similar to a helpless and repulsive bug. Kafka virtually saw himself as a vermin, just as Gregor came to wake up and discover that he had transformed into a bug. Kafka’s father contributed to making his son feeling as if he actually was predisposed to being a failure in life and can to a certain degree be held responsible for the fact that “The Metamorphosis” was written. The events in Kafka’s life are somewhat ordinary for a Jewish family living during the late nineteenth century (Eisner 75).
Having to live in accordance with his father’s rules because of the fact that he was his employer made life particularly difficult for Kafka and his only refuge was in writing. It is only natural for such happenings to influence one in coming to believe that he is inferior. Gregor Samsa was obviously afraid of his father’s strength, considering that he was impressed with the size of the man’s boots, this most certainly being a reference to the fact that his father could easily kill him if he wanted to, as an ordinary bug had been no match for a powerful man equipped with enormous boots. The fear his family and society as a whole imposed on Gregor prevented him from being able to express himself and he was constantly controlled. Gregor suffers from an inferiority complex and is thus powerless.
It is difficult to interpret the exact events which influenced Gregor to transform into an insect. One cannot determine whether the transformation process was merely a materialization of the character’s desires, or whether it was some horrible tragedy that was only part of his ill-fated life.
Certain elements in the book apparently indicate that the alienation was something Gregor wished for, as he did not want to continue his life as it was. Tired of giving his best in order for his family to have a decent living, the man probably wanted something in return for his acts. As a result, he chose to turn into an insect, an actual parasite that would depend on those who were stuck with him. His family consequently realizes that they could live without Gregor’s assistance, become self-sufficient and abandone Gregor and the dependence they previously had on him.
Gregor’s alienation began at an early age, when he was apparently left with no one but himself to provide for his family. He sacrifices himself so that his family’s basic needs will be met and in spite of everything he goes through he still feels guilty when Grete has to take care of him, considering that it is his job to take care of his family, and not vice versa.
As the action progresses, it is revealed that his family did not actually need Gregor, nor did his employers. He was less significant than he believed he was and displayed an obsessive attachment to his family. It is possible that (even though he did not transform until the morning when he was found by his family and his superior) he was always a parasite on the inside. It appears that it was he who was dependent on his family, instead of his family being dependant on him.
At one moment in his meaningless life, he gets the chance to love someone but misses it because he feels that he would not be able to help his family if he were to befriend a girl. This chance could have brought him back to reality, as he could develop affection for another human being, eventually having the possibility to father children and detach from the lonely life he was leading.
The metamorphosis can also be considered to be proof of the abuse Gregor was subjected to by his family and by society in general. “Kafka’s uniqueness as a narrative author lies, among other things, in the literalness with which the metaphors buried in linguistic usage come alive and are enacted in the scenes he presents” (Bloom 105).
Gregor’s presence in a closed room can be a reference to how he is actually willing to alienate himself from society, either because he does not want to be a part of it or because he believes that he is exploited. Kafka was most probably interested in writing in agreement with a concept that was wide spread in modern thought-alienation (Bloom 105). His background assisted him in developing the character of Gregor Samsa.
Everyone expected him to assist them with what they needed and when he was unable to do so they turned their backs on him, demonstrating that he was worthless to them when he did not help. When they learn that they cannot reach Gregor, everyone becomes desperate and instead of showing affection they are furious, refusing to take into consideration the fact that Gregor could have been sick.
While the transformation is obvious when taking Gregor into consideration, there is another metamorphosis taking place in the book, one that is less apparent, but which is also important. Grete changes over the course of the book, reaching a stage where she is no longer the caring and innocent sister who only wants what’s best for her brother. She ends up being a woman who is less emotional, showing lack of enthusiasm when it comes to Gregor’s well-being.
The book surprises from its very start, as the readers are presented with the character of Gregor, his background, and with how he wakes up and discovers that he turned into a vermin. Obviously, this finding shocks Gregor to the point where he can no longer think properly. However, he soon comes to him senses and instead of worrying because of his appearance, he is more worried for his incapacitation. He realizes that he will no longer be able to work, given the fact that he cannot catch the train that usually takes him to his working place.
It is probably his very social statue that influenced Gregor’s condition as a cockroach. Not only does he disregard his appearance, but he is certain that his job is more important than the fact that he is no longer human. One might be inclined to believe that Gregor’s method of living is the reason for his situation, as he gradually got worse because of his job and because of his devotion to making money to help his family. His own person was not important for Gregor, as what truly mattered for the man was making money and providing everything to his close ones.
The metamorphosis can also be attributed to the fact that everyone around Gregor were unable to perceive him as a normal human being. His incapacity to escape his job isolated him from the world and because society considered him to be no more than a worthless insect, he turned into one. His family was able to live without him, just as his superiors were able to continue doing business without him. With no support from his family and become aware of the ineffectiveness he displayed while working, Gregor was a cockroach, both physically and mentally.
Whereas “The Metamorphosis” is primarily based on the relationship between Gregor and society, “The Namesake” goes at discussing a broader topic, one related to how an individual can be traumatized as a result of being unable to discover his personal identity. The Gangali family immigrated to the U.S. with the purpose of finding a better living. However, in spite of the fact that some aspects are better in the West, they cannot breakaway from their background and constantly feel that they cannot adapt.
The first difficult situation encountered by the mother, as a young Indian girl, was when she got married to an Indian man who lived in America. Because she didn’t travel anywhere in her life before her marriage, it was hard for her to cope to living with someone she didn’t really know, oversees, in a strange country, with different people, different culture and different language. Being away from one’s family is hard; it takes time to get used to it. The newly married woman did know how to face this difficult situation and no one to counsel her on the subject.
The wife moved away from her parents’ house, then she got two children a boy and a girl. The choice they made for the boy’s name was unfortunate. They called him Gogol, like the Russian writers his father admired so much and this name would provide countless occasions for his peers in America to make fun of him. He will later struggle to change it into a neutral old American name, Nike and will finally succeed. Despite that, his family will continue to call him Gogol.
Gogol is a suburban male teenager caught between his Indian roots and his American birthrights. Gogol and his Indian-born parents must somehow strive to keep a balance between age-old tradition and their modern-day living style and the sensibilities they touch as they search for a patch of common ground.
Gogol and his sister got the chance to go to India, the place where their ancestors came from. They spent there eight months and had the opportunity to see the difference between living in America and anywhere else. The consequence was that they didn’t want to stay there more than it was necessary and longed for their lives in the U.S.
Gogol passed through many difficult situations, some provided by common things that prove to become very important for a young boy fighting to find his place among his colleagues. First, his name is bothering him, then all of his relationships didn’t workout.
The first girlfriend he had was American and they had trouble understanding each other and finding a common ground to interact. The fact that they had almost no chance in building together a long-term relationship because of the huge cultural difference between their families contributed to their brake up.
Making his struggle to find his place in society even more difficult, Gogol’s father passed away. After that, Gogol decided to become more Indian than before, following the Indian tradition instead of trying to adopt the more liberal western style. Consequently, he accepted to meet the Indian girl that was chosen for him again, then he decided to marry her. but, this did not turn out to be any better than his previous relationship. His wife was Indian, but she lived all her life in France, then she moved to New York. She was attached to the French culture, spoke the language and on top of that, she was in love with a French before she met Gogol. Eventually, they will get divorced. This is his second relationship that went bad, despite his determination to change things, to go back to his roots and accept living like his family.
His mother did not know what to do after her husband died. She had the choice either to stay in America or go back home. Gogol’s sister got married, too. Their mother decided she did not want to spend her life alone in a country that remained strange to her. She sold the house and went back home. It turned out to be a good decision for everyone. She could go back to a life she was born in and had long longed for, knowing that her children were settled down and satisfied or with the potential of finding satisfaction one day. After Gogol got divorced he went back to live with his mother.
In this book the author concentrated more on Gogol’s life, the difficulties that he faced and the way he handled them. The ending it is not a happy ending, because the father died, Gogol got divorced and the mother went back home. The family ended up by getting separated from one another and everyone moved on with their lives.
The death of the father and Gogol’s divorce were two sources of great distress in the family and each of them were somehow affected by the events. Death of a first degree relative and divorce are considered the two biggest sources of distress in one’s life. The namesake puts a third one on the same row with the two: culture clash.
The meeting between traditionalism and living by the rules set by the ancestors on one side and liberalism, on the other can produce earthquakes in everyone’s life. Gogol’s mother, Ashima never tried to become an American and the only reason she stayed in her country of adoption was because she followed her husband. As soon as he died, her children away from home, with their families or friends, living a life on their own, she had no reason to stay any longer and returned to India. It is evident to the reader that she never actually left India in her heart.
In spite of the fact that readers are likely to have a better understanding of what Lahiri wanted to express through her book, it is still difficult to determine the exact factors that shape the book and that cooperate in sending a message regarding namelessness, lack of identity, and finding of oneself. The book deals with the life experiences of a specific community and unlike in “The Metamorphosis,” readers can actually understand what it is that prevents characters from identifying themselves as American or Bengali. “The Metamorphosis” “abounds with misleading assumptions, perversion of traditional ideas, intricacies of deception, projective identification in families-all tinged with irony and paradox” (Gans).
Although Gogol struggles to think of himself as being American, his roots and the very source of his name remind him that he will always have Bengali blood running through his veins. Gogol was essentially a second-generation Asian immigrant, but his community cannot actually be named, given that most people believe that someone can either be an American citizen or an immigrant, with no middle ground between these two. Gogol is reluctant to think of himself as an immigrant or as having Bengali roots, as he is determined to abandon his background in favor of embracing a new life, completely different from that experienced by his parents. However, most Americans are unwilling to accept Gogol as a bona fide American and thus consider him to be a nothing more than a South-Asian immigrant.
Even though Gregor and Gogol both do their best to achieve success at what they do, they discover that they have to fight society in order to triumph. The masses will always think of them as being part of a particular public, in spite of the efforts the two make with the purpose of detaching themselves from their fate. The term “catachresis” can actually be used for Gogol’s identity, as he could not be related to in a particular way.
Misnaming is a common occurrence in the contemporary society, with one of the best examples of such a thing being that concerning American Indians. Society considered that the only way to refer to all of the people who lived on the American continent previous to the first European landings would be American Indians, given that it was virtually impossible to relate to a multitude of ethnicities by using a single term (Amardeep).
Gogol is thus trying to find something that does not necessarily need to be found, as he simply has to accept his position in society rather than to struggle in vain for a meaningless cause.
“The Namesake” employs less subtlety in trying to deal with the concepts it is meant to put across. The book basically relates to a South Asian family immigrating in the U.S. And being unable to assimilate perfectly. Similar to how Kafka focused on alienation, Lahiri also concentrated on a contemporary trend in devising her book-high cultural pluralism. The character of Gogol serves as a tool meant to demonstrate that borders are no longer what most individuals think they are, since it takes much more than just citizenship for one to become a member of a nation.
Gogol virtually “finds himself struggling against the yoke of allegorical expectations as an embodiment of the Child: either choose assimilation into a cultural unity that desperately needs — in its ever more visible density as fantasy — to be shored up by such an affirmation or choose an allegiance to a pluralism that can be as suffocating as what it seeks to supersede” (Song). Although most novels in this category (postmodern multicultural) attempt to present readers with a method of becoming assimilated into a culture, “The Namesake” simply presents a case involving South Asian individuals being unable to adapt to cultural trends they encounter in the U.S. Through this, the author is likely to want to raise public awareness regarding how it is wrong to try to deny one’s roots, just as it is extremely hard and almost impossible for one to try and become something he or she is not.
Even though “The Namesake” is somewhat simplistic in character, it is nonetheless particularly important through the elements it presents. Storytelling is not confusing and from the very first paragraphs in the book readers are likely to realize that Lahiri is interested in introducing simple concepts that are however impressive and complex through the sentiments they contain.
Judging from Kafka’s words, the author himself is no absolutely certain about the message he wants to send. In contrast, Lahiri describes everything and takes care that her readers are not going to finish the book without realizing its meaning. “Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect” (Lahiri 50).
These words are obviously meant to make a connection between foreigness and pregnancy and, with the help of Lahiri, both Ashima and the readers discover how these two factors are essential in gaining a better understanding of multiculturalism. Ashima’s lack of confidence as she is about to give birth in conditions so unfamiliar to her and to most of her relatives increases the feeling that the Ganguli family is unable to adapt, considering that the woman can no longer continue a ritual that was present in her community for ages.
Gogol is the materialization of his mother’s fears regarding her birth, as he does not succeed in becoming an American in his heart, nor does he manage to come at peace with himself through recognizing his background. Realizing that there is no other solution than to accept her fate, Ashima acknowledges that motherhood (just like foreigness) is something that will always feel different, regardless of the circumstances. Gogol comes as a solution to the problem of foreigners in the U.S., given that he is more American than his parents and he is concomitantly Bengali because of his roots.
Lahiri carefully looks into each of the passages that might trigger confusion and provides explanatory information, considering that she clearly presents Gogol in contrast to his parents, particularly in the scene involving the Bangladeshi taxi driver who is virtually ignored by the second generation immigrant. Gogol’s behavior shows his personality and demonstrates that he inherited a series of elements from several cultures, with his thinking eventually coming to be influenced by all of the cultures he interacted with (Song). Even though Gogol is initially certain that he cannot identify with a particular culture, the author gradually reveals how it is not very important for one to concentrate on discovering their ethnic background, given that they already belong to a group, in spite of the fact that the respective group is not one hundred percent American on Bengali.
Gregor’s lost love is somewhat similar to Gogol’s Maxine, considering that the latter were unable to stay together as a result of the tension in the Ganguli family. Once again, Lahiri describes exactly what motivated Gogol in breaking the relationship he had with Maxine whereas Kafka does little to elucidate why Gregor is no longer with his loved one. Gregor has the chance of detaching himself from his family in favor of embracing society and freedom, just as Gogol has the opportunity to live the American Dream once he enters Maxine’s family. W
Whereas Gregor would have been saved if he were to stay with his loved one, Gogol would have been assimilated if he continued his relationship to Maxine, simply becoming unable to discover himself. With Bridget following Maxine in Gogol’s chain of affairs, readers observe that the former is exactly as Ashima pictured life in America to be, short lasting and dangerous for one’s character. Despite Gogol believes Moushumi to be the right choice in marriage, it quickly turns out that it is not through establishing a relationship with a member of the same community that one would come to peace with themselves. In his attempt to please himself and his close ones, Gogol vainly tries to marry Moushumi, only to realize that she was assimilated into the Western society better than him and his family. Traditionalism can apparently be devastating when it intervenes in some of the most intimate moments of one’s life. Across his life, Gogol tried to distance himself from his roots and from his name and eventually came to realize that it would have been better for him to follow his own will rather than try to be someone he was not.
It would take much more than a multicultural analysis to look into Gregor Samsa’s problems, as he appears to suffer from an irreparable depression fueled by his family and by society as a whole. It is not necessarily that he is unable to escape his home, but that his life experiences rendered him incapable of succeeding, given that he will always feel that he depends on his family, and vice-versa, even though this is not actually true. When he eventually retreats to his room in order to die, it becomes clear that Gregor’s death enabled his family to do whatever it pleased, given that they were until that time held in place because of the book’s protagonist. It is probable that Gregor’s dependence to his family as a cockroach was inspired from Kafka’s real life experiences during the time when he had tuberculosis and had to rely on his family to bring him everything he needed (Bloom 136).
According to Jerome S. Gans, “there are many parallels between a reader’s relationship with a work of fiction and a therapist’s psychotherapeutic relationship with his patient. To both encounters each party brings an inner world” (Gans).
Kafka’s personality is involved in the writings he produces and readers are free to use their experience in trying to understand exactly what “The Metamorphosis.” It is extremely difficult to determine what kind of person Gregor is, as in spite of the fact that most readers are likely to support the character, some can believe that he is actually someone who blames the world for his own incapability to succeed in life and for the fact that he cannot detach himself from his family.
It is to his readers’ if they want or not to develop compassion for Gregor, as Kafka puts across a series of details and does not attempt to influence them in any way. Whereas most people are likely to understand Gregor, they are also probable to realize that it was him who ultimately created the conditions he died in. If Gregor were to follow his own path in life, he would have managed to triumph and achieve his goals. The protagonist apparently loved his family, but indirectly used his father’s failures as a means to impose his control in the house. It is obvious that he was not obliged to work for his father’s creditor and that he could have raised the money his father had to pay from working in another place. However, this demonstrates that he was actually interested in showing the sacrifice he was ready to perform for the well-being of his family.
To a certain degree, one could consider that Lahiri tries to influence her readers through her story, as she does not actually leave way for interpretation. All things considered, both novels incorporate a great deal of elements, ranging from alienation to guilt, with the protagonists to blame for their ignorance and society to blame because of the hostility it employs in dealing with young people.
Bloom, Harold. Franz Kafka’s the Metamorphosis. Chelsea House. (New York, 1988).
Eisner, Pavel. Franz Kafka and Prague. Golden Griffin Books. (New York, 1950).
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. (Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The namesake. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004).
Singh, Amardeep. “The Nameless: Jhumpa Lahiri’s the Namesake.” Retrieved November 30, 2010, from the Leigh University Website: http://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2004/07/nameless-jhumpa-lahiris-namesake.html
“Narrative Lessons for the Psychotherapist: Kafka’s the Metamorphosis,” American Journal of Psychotherapy 52.3 (1998)
“The Children of 1965: Allegory, Postmodernism, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s the Namesake,” Twentieth Century Literature 53.3 (2007)
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