This research approaches the cross cultural shock in the movie “The
Namesake”. Though it is a specific example for the cross cultural clash
(Indians immigrants in USA), it can represent any other cross cultural clash
happening to immigrants. My research will be focusing on how immigrants deal
with the change in culture; how they adapt themselves with the new culture. It
will also focus on the case when we have two generations of immigrants are
together (parents and their children), the first generation knows about the
traditions of the first culture since they lived in its context before
immigrating. The other generation, on the other hand, just learnt it from the
first generation (their parents). The research will discuss the struggle of the
immigrants because of the cultural difference, how it affects both the first
and second generation, and how they deal with the shock.
The term cultural shock comes from academic literature. Now, it went on
media, magazines etc. Guides to make the culture shock less powerful are
accessible to all travelers since they are exposed to cultural shocks. Many
definitions work for culture shock like “transition shock”, “disorientation”,
but they all mean the same thing: a sudden experience where you find that an
individual or a group have different perspectives or behaviors from the ones
shared by others. Still, it is considered as a normal step towards the
acculturative process. We can know whether someone is having a culture shock
through symptoms emotional, cognitive etc. (Spencer-Rodgers, Williams, &
Peng, 2010). Also, there are many advices to help people develop an emotional
resilience when they move from a culture to another (Abarbanel, 2009; Azeez et
al., 2004; Barrett, 2009; Bourne, 2009; Green, 2006), especially people in
educational and work environments. People will always travel different
countries, so it is really important to know about culture shock in order to
operate effectively. During the last 70 years, the number of humans moving
across national boundaries has greatly increased. The term cultural shock became
“The Namesake” uses the immigrant
experience to explore the meaning of identity through the cross cultural shock.
The film follows a couple from India (first generation) and the American family
they create (second generation). I chose this movie because it is first taken
form a novel of the author Jhumpa Lahiri. It has a big literary value as a
novel that treats a cultural phenomenon. Thus, the movie that reflects the
novel represents the same cultural aspects. I thought that having a movie with
a literary background would give my research a literary value.
The movie is about an Indian
family living in USA. It begins with Ashima, a young Bengali woman, accepting
Ashoke’s proposal. He is a student living in USA. After the marriage, she
accompanies him to New York. The two of them try to adjust to the way of life
in New York and to assimilate the cultural differences. Ashima gives birth to a
boy then a girl, Gogol and Sonia. Gogol grows up as a typical American teenager and Sonia
becomes a rebellious teenager herself. Their father has to travel to teach at a
university in Ohio for six months. There he feels unexpectedly dies from a
heart attack. Gogol is forced to confront his fears about his cultural identity. He finally learns to make peace with his culture and his
circumstances; his mother returns back eventually to India.
The namesake depicts the
life of two first-generation immigrants, Ashoke and Ashima, from India and
their American-born Indian children, Gogol and Sonia, and their struggle to
live an American lifestyle without losing touch with their Indian heritage.
-Ashoke: living between two
cultures, an American culture based liberty, freedom of choice, rights and
individual needs. An Indian culture which is based on a collectivist cultural
ethos emphasizing obligations. In raising his children, Ashoke is aware that he
is raising an individualistic society, while still attempting to maintain their
in their Indian heritage. As the children are growing, Ashoke works through his
own ways of ethnocentrism and adapts very well. He understands that his
children are growing up in a different environment than he experienced as a
child. After his death, the family is brought closer to their Asian Indian
-Ashima: She begins to
assimilate into American culture. In relationship with her husband she never
shows public affection. Ashoke brings the topic of love, but Ashima mocks it
“Do you want me to say I love you like an American?”
Sonia: As a teenager, she dresses like other American
teenage girls. Although she embraces her Indian culture, it is apparent she
identifies herself as an American. She abides by her parents wish when she is
asked to do something. It shows the female submission in the Indian culture.
You also can see how she got accustomed to American culture when she first
Gogol: this character is
very important in showing the cultural clash in the movie. He struggles because
of the cross-cultural difference. With friends his American identity emerges,
but with family his Indian identity takes over. He shows an Individual American
self and an Indian collectivist self. After the death of his father, Gogol
starts to embrace his Indian heritage. Although he had trouble accepting both
cultures, it can’t be denied that both of them made him what he is.
Most of the movie examines
the struggles of each character with their culture, both American and Indian,
and how this shapes them into who they are. The first cultural clash shown is
when the wife first arrives to USA and sees how alone she was. Even after she
had children, they grew up and left her. She can hardly bear the clash between
the collectivism in India and the Individual American society. Then it is
portrayed through Sonia, who when she went to India for the first time, she
couldn’t easily adapt with the different life people have in India although she
has Indian roots. Another cross cultural shock is seen through Maxim (I didn’t
mention it with characters so I will give a brief description about her). She
is Gogol’s ex-girlfriend, an American of a wealthy family. In her first
encounter with Gogol’s parents we could see the cross cultural shock. In India,
elders are very much respected, and they should be greeted in a very respectful
way. Maxim’s American way didn’t show the amount of respect demanded. Also when
Gogol’s father died, she was asking him about their Christmas trip, which
wasn’t very respectful to the Indian traditions.
Many literary studies talk
about the cross cultural difference in “The Namesake”, either the fiction of
film version of it. One of the articles made in this regard is from International
Journal of Academic Research under the title Culture
Shock in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” wrote by Dr. Swathi Chikkala.
This scholarly article supports the points of my research
with more enhancement.
It talks about the dilemmas that Indians face when confronted with a foreign culture. It mirrors
the cross-cultural, transcultural experiences of the characters who have very
strong Indian roots. The characters try to resolve the conflict by undertaking
journey, both physical and psychological to relate to their culture, refashion
their identities and reconcile with their true self. It also mentions how the
mother was feeling strange about the idea of giving birth to a child in a
hospital thinking that it is strange for her child to be born in a place where
people go either to suffer or die. She began to dread consequences of
motherhood in a foreign land. She begins to experience impatience and inability
to continue with such a life with a new member in the family. She cannot pull
herself to take care of her baby boy alone without assistance of any kind.
The Ganguli family also becomes the tool of introducing the
issue the ‘other’. The movie demonstrates how Gogol gets the taste of racial
discrimination at a tender age. The day after Halloween Gogol observes the name
on their mail box – “Ganguli” has been altered as “GANG GREEN” and his
embarrassment, tinged with confusion as to why would his fellow countrymen
would attempt to humiliate him affects him greatly. The father though didn’t
get affected by that. As though he developed a cross cultural immunity. The
family visits India often. These visits are looked forward by the parents while
the children dread them. They feel as outsiders.
There is an occasion in the novel where Gogol introduces
Maxine to his parents at their home in Pemberton Road. It is a sort of
confrontation of two cultures that do not share many similarities. For Ashima,
it is a totally important occasion and she spends many hours preparing the
lunch, and her effort embarrasses Gogol.
Gogol’s reaction to the news of his father’s death is worth
noting as he, for the first time in his life, draws a line between himself and
the American society. He comes to accept himself. The inevitable
happens as he estranges himself from Maxine, which seems like a willing choice
As to give my research more reliability. Here is a piece of
information brought from Wikipedia about the Indian culture.
Family structure and marriage
For generations, India has a prevailing tradition of
the joint family system. It is when extended members of a family – parents,
children, the children’s spouses and their offspring, etc. – live together.
Usually, the oldest male member is the head in the joint Indian family system.
He mostly makes all important decisions and rules, and other family members are
likely to abide by them.
Arranged marriages have long been the norm in Indian
society. Even today, the majority of Indians have their marriages planned by
their parents and other respected family-members. In the past, the age of
marriage was young. The average age of marriage for women in India has
increased to 21 years, according to 2011 Census of India. In 2009, about
7% of women got married before the age of 18.
This piece of information does only support the
aspects of my research. The first part accentuates the nature of Indian family
structure based on collectivism. The second part, on the other hand, emphasizes
the two arranged marriages that happened in the movie. A thing which doesn’t
exist in the American culture based on freedom of choice.
To conclude my research, I want to restate everything
that was said in a shorter version. “The namesake” is a movie that represents a
cross cultural shock between Indian and American culture. Indians tend to be
more conservative to their traditions. They have strong family bonds. They
respect elders very much. Indians like the feeling of being among family
members. They live a life based on collectivism. Americans, on the other hand,
tend to be more individual. These very different ways of life caused the
cultural shock displayed in “The Namesake”