The Namesake

The Namesake Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6


The summer before he leaves for college at Yale, Gogol goes to probate court and legally changes his name to Nikhil. When he brought up the idea to his parents, they react negatively but not aggressively, saying that Gogol has become his good name and that it will be too complicated to change it now. His father finally gives in, saying, "In America anything is possible. Do as you wish." At the probate court, the process of changing his name is much less ceremonious than he expected. Nevertheless, he feels much different living as Nikhil than he did living as Gogol.

Gogol goes to Yale and introduces himself as Nikhil; however, it takes a while before he really feels like Nikhil. For the first semester, he goes home to his parents' house every other weekend. He feels restless there and misses being at school. In the fall of sophomore year, he is taking a train home for Thanksgiving and he sits near a girl named Ruth whom he vaguely recognizes from Yale. They spend the whole train ride talking, and when they get back to school after Thanksgiving weekend, they begin to date. In the spring of sophomore year, Ruth goes to study abroad at Oxford in England. While she is away, Gogol misses her terribly and keeps in touch with her via letters.

While Ruth is in England, Gogol goes to a panel at Yale about Indian novels written in English. It makes him think about the fact that he cannot read or write his parents' native language. He learns that the name for what he is, an "American-born confused deshi" is "ABCD." However, he doesn't want to join the Indian association at Yale because he doesn't feel like he would fit in with the type of people who are in it. Ruth decides to stay at Oxford for a summer course as well, and when she gets back at the end of summer, they break up.

The next Thanksgiving, Gogol's train home is delayed because someone committed suicide on the tracks. When it finally arrives in the station, his father is waiting for him, clearly worried that there had been an accident similar to the one he himself had suffered as a young man. When they arrive home, Ashoke tells Gogol about the origin of his name; about the train accident in which he was almost killed. Gogol asks him if he reminds him of that night that he almost died, and his father says no; he reminds him of "everything that followed."

Chapter 6 begins in 1994, and now Gogol is living in a tiny apartment in New York working as an architect. One night he goes to a party with his coworker Evan, and he meets a woman named Maxine Ratliff. They flirt all night, and the next day she invites him to dinner at her parents' house. Her parents, Lydia and Gerald, are incredibly wealthy, and they interact in a casual but intelligent way that is totally opposite the behavior of Gogol's own parents. He begins spending most of his time at their home rather than at his own apartment, and he feels effortlessly incorporated into their lives. Eventually, he basically moves into their home with them.

Gerald and Lydia go to their lake house in New Hampshire for the summer, so Gogol and Maxine have the mansion to themselves. He spends all his time there when he is not at work, losing touch with his parents and never visiting them. His mother calls to ask him to visit them to see his father off before he leaves to spend nine months at a university outside Cleveland, but the most Gogol will do is stop in for lunch with Maxine on their way to her parents' lake house in New Hampshire. At lunch, his parents are reserved but polite.

At the Ratliff's lake house, Gogol and Maxine spend the days relaxing on the beach with Lydia, Gerald, and Maxine's grandparents, Edith and Hank, who have a summer house on the same lake. Gogol celebrates his 27th birthday there, with all the Ratliff's friends who don't know him well. He feels isolated from his parents and from his old life, and he likes the feeling.


The tension between Bengali culture and American culture is revealed in Ashoke's words to Gogol when Gogol tells him he wishes to change his name: "In America anything is possible. Do as you wish." He is resigned to the fact that his son is an American. When they find out about Gogol's relationship with Ruth, Ashima and Ashoke point out examples of failed marriages between Bengali men and American women. Maxine's parents, Gerald and Lydia, interact in a way that emphasizes to Gogol the difference between Bengali and American marriages: they openly kiss and cuddle, whereas Ashima and Ashoke never share intimate moments in public.

The importance of name and identity is clear in Chapter 5 when Gogol changes his name legally to Nikhil. At first, the name change is confusing because everyone who knows him still calls him Gogol. However, when he goes to Yale, nobody knows him as Gogol and he can become Nikhil. It takes a while for him to really feel like Nikhil, since it is not just a new name but represents a new identity.

As Nikhil, it's easier for Gogol to separate himself from his parents. They represent his old life when he understood his identity as Gogol; now he is Nikhil and he can ignore them without feel responsible. He does not tell them about his relationship with Ruth at first, since "he has no patience for their surprise, their nervousness, their quiet disappointment, their questions about what Ruth's parents did and whether or not the relationship was serious." Once he moves to New York to work as an architect, he stops visiting his parents so much. "He prefers New York, a place which his parents do not know well, whose beauty they are blind to, which they fear." His mother tries to get in touch with him by calling him, and he ignores her calls.

The tension between life and death comes to the forefront when Ashoke finally tells Gogol about the train accident that made him decide to name his son after the Russian author whose book he was reading at the time. Gogol is upset and asks his father if he reminds him of that night he almost died. His father says, "Not at all... you remind me of everything that followed." His son represents new life to him, the new life that followed his recovery.

During chapters 5 and 6, Gogol makes an effort to alienate himself from his parents by spending all his time with Maxine and the Ratliffs. At their lake house in New Hampshire, his parents can't reach him by phone and "in this cloistered wilderness, he is free" from them. Nevertheless, he is also alienated from the Ratliffs and their friends, since they never knew him as Gogol and since they are unsure of his past.