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Explain how The Namesake is in the Bildungsromangenre. Does the genre definition apply to the development of the boy Gogol or to the struggles of the...


A bildungsroman is a narrative that tells the story of the protagonist's coming-of-age process. The novel will typically show the protagonist growing up both physically and psychologically. Often, a key event in the narrative will spark the character's maturation.

Strictly speaking, a bildungsroman is about a young person's evolution into a mature adult, so the term is better applied to Gogol in The Namesake. The novel actually follows Gogol from birth to adulthood. The story opens by recounting Ashima's and Ashoke's (Gogol's parents) experience as he is born and they must name him. They are following their Indian tradition by waiting on a letter from Ashima's grandmother. However, the letter and the name never arrive. They must name the baby before taking him home from the hospital, so Ashoke suggests the name of his favorite author, Gogol. We also learn that the author Gogol is so precious to Ashoke because Ashoke nearly died in a train accident in India and credits his survival to reading the collection of Gogol's short stories. This strange name, along with the "good name" (Nikhil) he is supposed to use when he starts school, causes an identity crisis in our main character. He struggles to negotiate who he is in relation to his name, which comes to represent a larger struggle to understand who he is as an American youth born to Indian immigrants.

The novel follows Gogol through school to high school graduation, college, and career. We see how he juggles his American and Indian cultural practices and how he struggles to fit in with his peers. We also witness his first romantic relationships, perhaps most significantly that with American woman Maxine (Max). Gogol spends time with Max and her parents, noticing how different they are from his much more conservative parents. He begins to admire their family and prefer them to his own. Gogol also feels tense and upset when he learns that his name comes from Ashoke's tragic memory of the train accident. Eventually, though, he is brought back to his family after the tragic and unexpected death of his father Ashoke. At this point, Gogol feels an increased sense of responsibility for his mother and sister and a deeper connection to his Indian roots. By the end of the novel, Ashima has decided to move out of the house the Ganguli children grew up in so she can spend half the year in India. The novel closes as Gogol reflects on his childhood and decides to read the Gogol story collection his father gifted him with when Gogol was a teenager. This shows an increased curiosity and appreciation for his father and the legacy of his name. This is not to say that all conflicts are resolved at the end of the The Namesake, but Gogol has certainly matured and evolved.

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