The Namesake: the Influence of American Lifestyle on Gogol’s Cultural Identity

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Gogol’s attraction to the American lifestyle challenges his own upbringing and cultural identity. This is most dramatically represented in his relationship with Maxine Ratliff, a wealthy, educated, American college student whom he met at a party hosted by a friend. Maxine and her parents embody everything that Gogol finds refined and sophisticated, and he realizes how different they are from his own parents. He loves and envies Maxine’s relationship with her parents Gerald and Lydia who live a far more extravagant and ‘American’ lifestyle than Gogol has grown accustomed to with his Bengali parents. 

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While on his trip to New York as a boy, his parents stayed isolated to Indian restaurants and shops while the Ratliff’s talk passionately “about things his own parents are indifferent to: movies, exhibits at museums, good restaurants, the design of everyday things. They speak of NewYork, of stores and neighborhoods and buildings they either despise or love, with an intimacy and ease that make Gogol feel as if he barely knows the city.” Gogol also admires the sophistication and ease with which Maxine’s parents entertain. 

“He is always struck by these dinners: only a dozen or so guests sitting around the candlelit table talking intelligently until the evening’s end. How different they are from his own parents’ parties, cheerfully unruly evenings to which there were never fewer than thirty people invited, children in tow.” Gogel viewed the Ratliff’s as idyllic and in stark contrast to his own family which he recognized as an abandonment of his own culture. 

“At times, as the laughter at Gerald and Lydia’s table swells, and another bottle of wine is opened, and Gogol raises his glass to be filled yet again, he is conscious of the fact that his immersion in Maxine’s family is a betrayal of his own.” Gogol enjoys spending time with Maxine’s family because they are part of the wealthy minority. They fail however in seeing Gogol as much more than just any other person that Maxine brings home to her parents. 

They struggle to see the beauty in his culture and even push it aside by saying “You could be Italian.” The attitude portrayed by Gogol’s idea of the perfect American family makes his relationship towards his Bengali parents even more divided. This idea of the extravagant America stems from his view of his home country in relation to his parents’ home country during his childhood years. “Apart from visiting relatives there was nothing to do in Calcutta.

He’s already been to the planetarium and the Zoo Garden and the Victoria Memorial a dozen times. They have never been to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon.” Obviously Gogol’s idea of the big, rich American lifestyle influences his opinion of Calcutta quite drastically. Growing up as a child in American oversaturated Gogol with the idea that you need to be rich in order for your dreams to be fulfilled. He compares his parents home country tourist attractions to those in America, that he would much rather visit. 

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