Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake & Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist: Identities in Transition

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Identities in Transition: A Study of Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘TheNamesake’ and Hari kunzru’s ‘The Impressionist’

By – Sanjay Thakur (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVIII, May 2017


This paper attempts to show that how the main characters of the novels ‘The Namesake’ and ‘The Impressionist’ keep changing their identities to sustain in the highly complex prevailing situations. It efforts to understand and explores those situations and conflicts which have reduced them up to this level and their subsequent response to those challenges in their life. This paper also probes those issues and causes which struck hard on the psyche of the characters and finally it will show that the construction, redefinition and transitional nature of their identities is the outcome of their interplay with transnational, trans-cultural situations and overall experiences in the alien world or unhomed space.

Keywords: Transitional Identity, Transnational, Trans- cultural, Unhomed space.

The issue of the identity has been the most crucial and ever debated area in the study of Diaspora. An identity is an intimidating issue for all socially and culturally displaced people throughout the world that keeps impinging their existence in the non native surroundings.

Identity is defined as: ‘the way in which an individual and/or group defines itself. Identity is important to self-concept, social mores, and national understanding. It often involves both essentialism and othering’ (Key Terms in Post-Colonial Theory, (n.d.))

Especially, in the postcolonial fictional world, it is the area which has substantially been surfaced in most of the literary creations. The issue of identity, its formation, crisis, trans-culture, cultural dislocation, challenges in assimilation are very integral parts of Diasporic study and analysis wherein most of writers have projected these issues vividly and delineated the picture of all sort of conflicts, be it social, cultural, spatial, psychological or political. Actually, Diaspora literature deals with the inner conflicts due to the cultural displacement or dislocation. Immigrants always fluctuate between past, present and between crisis and reconstruction in the host country. Most of these issues find an appropriate voice and treatment especially in the novels like ‘The Namesake’ by Jhumpha Lahiri, ‘The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru and ‘Jasmine’ and ‘Desirable Daughters’ by Bharti Mukerjee are just to name few.

Issues with Reference to ‘The Namesake’

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indo-American writer who writes and talks about the experiences of the first generation and second generation migrants. Her novel ‘The Namesake’ profoundly depicts the struggle of its various characters which is inner (psychological) and outer as well as the overall transnational, trans-cultural experiences of migrant Indo- Americans. In ‘The Namesake’ the whole story revolves around one central issue and that is name and a quest for the true identity. In this regard, Stuart Hall’s notion of identity as the continuous play of history, culture and power- and Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of “third dimension” as the common ground for negotiation and transformation, which is neither assimilation nor otherness but represents the history of coalition building and the transnational and cultural diasporic connection are very important sources to understand and analyse this novel. The novel focuses on the notion of transitional identities.

Author represents her characters struggling hard to balance the two worlds along with the issues of immigration, race, culture and identity. The novel gives a deep insight into the life journey of a migrant Bengali couple in America. In this novel every character seems little lost and contemplating all the time. Main protagonist, Ashima always keeps brooding on the rift between Indian and American culture and always felt the tinge of unhomed space. She always keeps comparing all the situations and wished to be in the closure of her family in India. Specially, whenever she gets emotional, she realises what it is to be in foreign, away from own social and cultural roots. Her conscience gets pricked and feels alienated, uprooted and often nostalgic. Ashima who always experiences the tinge of complex psychological problems like sense of rootlessness, alienation in foreign land where she got migrated at the tender age and feels related to no one. She always longed for the closure of her family specially in such situation when she is expecting a child. Ashima finds it very difficult to live in a place which doesn’t belong to her. She has lot of apprehensions about her subsequent life conditions in America. She felt totally miserable when she even thought of giving birth to a child in such alien land. It is evidently clear from the following remark. Throughout her pregnancy, Ashima was afraid of raising a child in “a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare.”(6) It clearly shows her predicament and carves for familial environment. So, in such unfamiliar scenario it becomes quite difficult for her to be at perfect peace. Initially she is very sensitive, sentimental and typical submissive Indian woman who always prefers to follow the Indian tradition and culture. Her life moves around her family only. She always wished that her son should also follow the Indian culture and must have all the sensibilities and respect towards their own Indian culture and its social ethos. However, she feels disheartened when she doesn’t find desirable response from her son.

Later in the novel she emerges as a strong character that embarks on her journey without worrying much about future course. Her personality takes a significant change after the death of her husband and there is a visible transition in her overall personality and perceptions. Now, she takes the charge of her life boldly to counter all upheavals of the life even in alien surrounding. By the end of this novel she decides spending half time in both the locations, America and India. In all, she feels the pull of different cultures, tradition and social scenario. At first she is not much confident, always in dilemma and confusion but eventually after living for a long time in different spaces she brings the confidence home and starts taking decisions. At the end of the novel Ashima’s change has been projected in the following way: She has learned to do things on her own, and though she still wears saris, still puts her long hair in a bun, she is not the same Ashima who had once lived in Calcutta. She will return to India with an American passport. In her wallet will remain her Massachusetts driver’s license, her social security card. (276). It shows the transformation of Ashima towards her independence which is the result of her encounters in unhomed space.

It is mainly through Gogol; Lahiri presents the identity crisis or conflicts which she herself has faced deeply. It is Lahiri’s lifelong mixed feelings about her identity due to her Indian name which gives base to Gogol’s struggle in the novel. As the title ‘The Namesake’ itself suggest that it primarily discusses the issue of forming one’s own identity in the changing social and cultural scenario and to explores the power that a name can carry which ultimately decides an individual’s identity and assimilation into a particular social and cultural set up.Terry Eagleton writes in, The Idea of Culture (2000) that the very word culture contains a tension between making and being made. They keep struggling for cultural identity which sways between two countries. Parents talk of shared history which stresses oneness. But cultural identity lies not only in oneness but in “critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute what we really are; or rather – since history has intervened – what we have become.” (Hall 112) Gogol and many other characters in ‘The Namesake’ face a continual dilemma as faced by the all immigrants while coming to new land. They struggle to maintain their identities while coming into the contact with new cultural values at the same time. This is what, whole second generation in America must have experienced. They feel sandwiched between the country of their parents and the country of their birth. They struggle to strike a balance between the ideologies and social ethos of these two countries. They find themselves quite a stranger at both the locations. In India they are considered Americans and in America they are taken as Indians. Due to this dilemma they encounter identity crisis and struggle to counter this tantalizing situation. This conflict is clear in following observation. “The first generation’s story was about adaptation and learning acculturing and also discovering new things about themselves. The second generation finds itself presented with two conflicting realities and cultures and sets of expectations – one of the host countries through the socio-cultural surroundings and the other of the home country through their parents.” (Batra 50)

This dilemma in Lahiri’s mind is well reflected through the character of Gogol. She focuses on the generational differences, conflicts and the flowing nature of identities amidst the feeling of up rootedness and indifferent attitude of host culture. Gogol’s inner struggle for his true identity intensifies with the issue of his name, which he finds very unusual. Especially in his teenage Goggle finds it very embarrassing to have such name which sounds much awkward to him and doesn’t give him a feel of ease and any sign of cultural linkage to particular social identity. So, Gogol decides to change his name to Nikhil before going to college which further shows his ardent desire to take the control of his own identity. He finds his existing name ‘Gogol’ very repulsive and starts hating this name. It is a direct outcome of the identity confusion at his birth, when the letter carrying his ‘True Name’ got lost in the mail. His father Ashok gives him name after his favourite Russian author which holds a deep significance for him but, Gogol is not clearly told about this emotional link very clearly during his childhood. However, in his formative days he was fine tuned with his name Gogol and rather insisted at school that he wishes to carry the same name, as being Nikhil he found himself an another person. He takes it as if someone is robbing his real identity from him. He is actually afraid of his new name. When his parents wished his name Nikhil to be his official name, he declines to accept the new name. It was his first attempt to reject a dual identity. As a child he associates a new name with a new identity and new reflection on him and he feels literally confused with the existing situation. However, this rejection left him alone with his old name Gogol. But, gradually, he realizes the uncommon nature of his name which problematizes his perception of identity when he grows up. He dislikes to be known by a name which sounds neither Indian, nor American. He always wishes to be identified as common American but he does not feel like an American with this strange sounding name. After knowing about his namesake, the Russian Author, he becomes too desperate to get rid of his name. His name Gogol “sounds ludicrous to his ears, lacking dignity of gravity.” (76) He does not feel like reading Nikolai Gogol as he thinks it “would mean paying tribute to his namesake, accepting it somehow” (92). Actually, He doesn’t bother about his unique name till he reaches to eleven and later during a class trip to a cemetery he first realizes that his name sounds very different and dissociative to existing cultural pattern. He doesn’t find it related to the main stream American as well as the Indian culture. Consequently, he starts hating his name to greater extent by taking it as a threat for his identity and becomes aware of the oddity of his name. He starts realising that being Gogal, he stands nowhere. It starts creating lots of doubts and apprehensions in his tender mind. His sensibilities start questioning and he feels an abnormal unease with this name. He becomes so obsessed with this inner conflict that he goes and changes his name legally which ultimately gives him a sigh of relief. Later when he enters Yale, nobody knows his earlier identity as Gogol. Now he feels relaxed and confident and his transformation starts. He starts doing many things which otherwise he couldn’t dare to do as Gogol. But, a new problem confronts him. He changes his name still “he does not feel like Nikhil” (105). He fears to be discovered being Gogol. So, he hates everything that reminds him of his affairs in past. But the loss of the old name was not so easy to forget and when he visits his home “Nikhil evaporates and Gogol reenters again.” (106) The transition in Gogol’s identity is also the result of divides between his family’s Indian cultural ethos and his progressing desire to be modern, independent and to follow American life style. In the novel there is a constant striving for a clear identity and his struggle becomes more intense due to his venture into the culturally divided world in which he grows up. He feels pull from the both sides. Gogol’s many of the decisions seem governed by the desire to live a normal American life and to escape the continual pull of his family’s tradition. Specially, in his relation with Maxine, an upper class modern girl, he finds solace and alternative home. He prefers to vacations with her family instead of visiting his family which he ignores. Gogol is completely torn between the choice of respecting their Indian culture and the mainstream American culture wherein he grows up.

Father has given him a name ‘Gogol’ due to its close connection with his chance survival in the fatal train accident earlier in his life. But, Gogol wasn’t mature enough to understand its deep emotional link at that time. His father tries a lot to convince him about the significance of his name and its true associative value, but Gogol keeps a reluctant attitude towards such revelation. “For his father had a point; the only person who didn’t take Gogol seriously, the only person who tormented him, the only person chronically aware of and afflicted by the embarrassment of his name, the only person who constantly questioned it and wished it were otherwise, was Gogol” (100). In his later life at college he uses his new name ‘Nikhil’ only which he feels has given him a new transformed identity, confidence and freedom. Still, sometimes he feels that untold ache of dual personality whenever he feels that actually he is Gogol in the guise of Nikhil. It shows that it’s not easy to get rid of our past and it keeps bouncing back. In this ways he keeps swinging between past and present.

 At the college party, Gogol is reluctant to introduce himself to Kim as “Gogol,” so he says his name is Nikhil. It gives him the confidence to kiss her: “It hadn’t been Gogol who had kissed Kim… Gogol had nothing to do with it.” Now from a confused boy he transforms himself into a more confident and close to the mainstream culture. He takes all liberty of his new identity in his relationship with the women in the novels. Later in relation with all ladies like Ruth, Maxine, Moushumi and Bridget he uses his new identity and status to walk smoothly and exploits the situations. However, no relation stands longer due to different incidents and his fluctuating temperamental nature. Especially after the death of his father Ashok, Gogol becomes indifferent towards his relationship and distances himself from it and prefers to stay with his family and often becomes nostalgic about his father. In his personality we notice multiple level of transformations from a simple child to a conscious teenager with identity conflict who intends to get his name changed at any cost, a bit rebellious and from that level to young student with new formed identity being Nikhil and enjoying and exploiting all freedom of life, later a bit dejected and disillusioned man with feeling of guilt. His father’s sudden death affects him profoundly as he learns to connect with him and his past. Monika Sharma rightly points out:

 In the death of his father, he finds a beginning, and awareness and understanding of community and of the place of the individual within family in society. The hour of personal grief unites him to his family and makes him accept their ways. The ambivalence of his in-between state ceases to vex him any more. Responding to the binary opposition as complementary rather than oppositional, he eventually discovers and resuscitates his Indian roots and familial ties. (Sharma 56)

 The death of his father brings very substantial changes in his perception. Now, he learns that he can’t ignore or undermine the value of either culture but he needs mesh or tie both the sensibilities together in a meticulous manner. He realizes that he is product of the both culture and they play their part in constructing and transforming his identity. He tries to cope up with the existing situation by transforming his identity which doesn’t require particular national and cultural boundaries. Hence he starts a journey to “to rediscover his roots, his self, his hyphenated identity and to revitalize the in betweenness of cultures, the alternate culture.”(Fernandes117). Hence ‘The Namesake’ is a narrative of how Gogol attains his identity and self-realization through his negotiation with different spaces. We understand that For Gogol it becomes very difficult to continue with the old name signifying altogether a different identity and finds everything very strange and awkward which doesn’t give him a feel of assimilation in American social scenario. It is the very cultural and social pull and his identity conflict which creates pressure on his psyche and compel him to change his name to ensure his assimilation in terms of name and to shed the feel of otherness. He realized that it is name which gives us our identity and association and it has to be very clear, as vague identity may mislead and disconnect him from the mainstream American cultural. However, at last especially after the death of his father he further underwent a significant temperamental changes about the concept of identity, culture and national boundary by redefining them with new revelation and perceptions.

Foucault asserts that space is fundamental in any form of communal life and in any exercise of power. The following observation underlines the importance of space in human life:

The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space. In other words, we do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another. (Foucault 1967) Lahiri’s novel demonstrates the truth of the above statement.

 Reference to ‘The Impressionist’

Likewise ‘The Impressionist’ traces the life of Pran Nath, the main character in the debut novel of a very promising writer Hari Kunzru. The novel is set during the initial part of 20th century and moves from different parts of India to England and Africa. ‘The Impressionist’ uses British imperialism/colonialism to explore the complex issues of identity. It depicts the identity in question and vividly shows the process of identity formation, its state of transition, and the pull of various social, political forces in the colonial world followed by the subsequent responses to these forces.

Novel shows a never-ending struggle of a boy with British and Indian blood to survive amidst harsh colonial environment by highlighting the complete dissolution of self, gender, race and culture. It primarily delineates the protagonist’s transitional/shifting identity as a person of mixed Indian and English blood, who has to change his identities as circumstances take him across the continent to survive. However, in this process of reinventing himself he hasn’t got control on the situations and has taken multiple identities. His identity always remains in the process, in a making and shaping state only. Here the hybridity that forms the whole fabric of identity is not taken as liberating rather as a dark stigma that protagonist always tries to conceal.

The main story revolves around a mixed race boy Pran Nath, who is the illegitimate son of an English explorer, and an Indian girl after having their chance encounter in the cave during a flood and becomes the product of a brief interracial union between his father, a white colonial forester, and a young well to do Indian woman Amrita. This act of his conception itself creates a very strong impression as it takes place under very mysterious and even sinister circumstances all around. Unfortunately, the English Forester dies in the floodwater and the Indian girl Amrita was then married to Pandit Razdan, a high cast wealthy man and boy was thought to be their child. Mother dies after giving birth to the child and left him in the care of Razdan only who takes pride in his royalty of blood. For the first fifteen years of his life, Pran Nath Razdan enjoyed a life of luxury. However, later the secret was disclosed by a servant and the true parentage of the boy got exposed and now he is taken as a bastard. Pran Nath’s privileged life abruptly comes to a harsh end after this revelation. He has been kicked out and thrown into the streets fully exposed to the grim social circumstances. The reversal of Pran’s fate is already foreshadowed shortly after his birth, when the astrologist predicts his life in a chart which “was strange and frightening. The stars had contorted themselves, wrung themselves into a frightening shape.The boy’s future was obscure.” (Kunzru, 26). The chart reveals that his life would be full of suffering and loss, passion and changes. This sudden disclosure of Pran’s real origin and subsequent treatment was a foreshadow that he will have to fight against all oddities to survive and in this process this mixed race boy has been reduced to such critical situations which struck his psyche so hard that he has to let himself flow with highly unfavourable situations. In his process of self exploration, he has been made to assume different guise to put his body and soul together. He keeps struggling hard to find his true identity in such colonial social circumstance. It remains a continual haunting question to him who actually he is and where he belongs to. In the process of exploring his true selfhood he goes through a series of horrible experiences.

First being a son of a wealthy Brahmin, he enjoys every riches of his life and everything is at his disposal. He is almost a spoilt brat. His future seems to be secure and filled with all luxuries of life being the son of highly rich and powerful man which further suggests that happy life is waiting ahead without any complications for him.

When we first meet him at fifteen years old in 1918, he’s contemplating rape: Somehow looking is no longer enough… He could grab her, and pull her down on the bolsters. There would be a fuss, of course, but his father could smooth it over. She is only a servant, after all.

This shows that initially he was leading an absolutely carefree life with no control upon his desire and could dare to rob the chastity of any girl even. It is an instance of the uncontrolled freedom he was enjoying. However, the revelation of his true identity and discovery of his hybrid origin made all the difference in his subsequent life. He finds himself unceremoniously tossed out into the street after his true paternity comes to light. It shows that how his hybrid origin determined his future development of identity that has to remain ever changing as per situation’s demand. It is the practice of intolerant attitude of both the cultures towards the hybridisation of races which profoundly influences the later life of Pran. As in that case either culture has very less acceptance of it. Pran Nath, who becomes the impressionist later, starts his strenuous journey to reinvent himself to survive, not once but many times.

Transitional Identities:

The very first transformation Pran’s identity takes place when he is not even aware of it. His situation changes within no time from a rich son to a homeless person without any family status and social affiliations. It struck his psyche very hard and goes through a series of substantial emotions ranging from shock to anger, gloom, resignation and alienation. This changed status can be understood by the scene where people, whom he usually mocked and tormented, start throwing dung and excrement on him, indicating his newly reduced identity as a very common member of a low social strata. In such situation he is left with no option other than to become the part of homeless society in hope of secure future.

But, his condition deteriorates even more as he is virtually imprisoned in a brothel and find himself instantly drugged, dressed up in a silky costume and unable to differentiate between the illusion and reality. Pran is only half-conscious, locked up in a dark room contemplating on the twist and turns of his unpredictable life.

The second transformation of Pran’s identity comes when he is taken away from the brothel.

Devoid of any identity, freedom, Pran thinks that any change in his current condition must be a positive one and was then taken to palace of Fatehpur. Very soon he realizes that he is about to be made a ‘Hijra’ an eunuch, ( who can’t be associated to any gender) named Rukhsana. He starts having very detestable and worst experiences. In the palace, He has been used just as a tool. Pran is now in pieces. A pile of Pran-rubble, ready for the next chance event to put it back together in a new order” (Kunzru 65).

Pran’s current state strongly demonstrate the fluidity of identity as considered by the postcolonial theory. “The metronomic clatter of the pistons, the rush of displaced air; all of it hints at change, progress. Slowly something begins to congeal in the Pran-flux. Something new is happening” (Kunzru 71).

It took him a long time to digest the fact and to accept his new deplorable identity. However, later he tries to reconcile himself with his new self and identity by shading his earlier identities. “With every swish of the broom, Pran Nath Razdan is falling away. In his place, silent and compliant, emerges Rukhsana” (Kunzru 101).

In the palace Fatehpur , he is used as a tool in the fight between colony and the Empire.

He faces Major Privett-Clampe’s immoral fondness & sexual assault on him. These attempts disclose the depraved nature of Privett-Clampe. Pran becomes Clive who is educated by Privett-Clampe and shaped into a model of a typical English schoolboy. Since Major Privett-Clampe has recognised the European element in his blood and want to support and develop this element of Pran’s self. Though, the impact of this European instruction remains long lasting on Pran’s life as now he understands for the first time that his European looks can be aptly used to make his life bit easier. His ability to comply with the new demand and situation is very exceptional. He shows immense flexibility in this regard irrespective to the level of intricacy. In fatehpur, due to continual threat of death, though very insignificant loss to any of the people around him, he attempts to escape and ultimately succeeds. Now, Pran finds himself in Amritsar and thought to be English descent due to his skin colour and thereby receiving the identity of a White Boy. The first sign of him being regarded as someone else, someone of a higher status, appears at the beginning of the chapter where he is addressed by Indian farmers as “sahib” (Kunzru 179) and later when British soldiers take him for a child of some of their colleagues: “They think he is one of them…How can they be so blind? How can they not tell?” (Kunzru 185). Not until this time does Pran realize this fact and starts to truly appreciate the European component of his blood by suddenly feeling “the colour streaming off him like sweat” (Kunzru 186)

Due to his sparkling complexion he manages to travel to Bombay with other English colonialists and thus escapes from the riotous region. The next stage of protagonist which can be associated to the European part of his origin is his stay in Bombay with the Presbyterian missionaries, as a foster child, a partial compensation for their two deceased sons. Revered Macfarlane who wishes to cultivate, cleanse his partly dirty origin (caused by the Indian element of his race). Therefore, during initial years which he spends with the missionaries, he works consciously on creating an illusion of him being an English boy. He achieves this by accepting an English name ‘Robert’ and by adapting his outward appearance to the European minority which is ensures through buying European clothes and following the British fashion style. He also works substantially on his language skills where his extraordinary endowment to imitate other languages and accents is rewarded.

The first image the reader comes across, which illustrates the reincarnation of Pran, reflects his endeavour: “He lights a cigarette, holds it elegantly, instantly transformed from a servant to a cocktail-party guest. To complete the illusion he leans on the wall beside him, crossing one leg over the other.A fashion plate.A man of leisure.” (Kunzru 191) It is absolute example of shaping up into a new identity and style very convincingly.

Pran’s ability in forming a new identity is also assessed also by Elspeth Macfarlane, Pran’s foster mother: “The boy is such a chameleon. Everything he touches, he seems to absorb. When he arrived he was so gawky, so foreign. Now he has become part of the place” (Kunzru 205). However, her remark doesn’t form the appreciation rather she becomes critical and worried about the integrity of his soul. It is due to his constant experiment and elaborate work on his appearance he moves much closer to his desired, European, British identity. Therefore he worked hard, studied the British nature, customs, conventions and habits to exploit his talent to look and seem to be one of them.

 “Something like this has happened before, but then it was sudden and unforeseen. Now he feels as if he is leaking, all the particulars that go to make up Pretty Bobby draining away to leave behind nothing but an empty vessel. A husk” (Kunzru 273).

Pran’s further transformation takes place in accommodating himself to the political unrest in Bomaby which offered him a chance to steal the identity of English orphan Jonathan Bridgeman and in doing so leaves him at the mercy of crowd of Indian rioters. Eventually

We find him heading towards England to be educated on such stealth identity. Pran’s further transformation is the result of his instinct of self preservation and analysing the situation quickly which led him to leave the actual Jonathan back: “Bridgeman, the actual, physical Bridgeman, is already fading. Someone known for a few hours only. Emptied and reinhabited. He grins. How easy it is to slough off one life and take up another! Easy when there is nothing to anchor you” (Kunzru 285).

While residing in London, it takes little time for Pran to be like an average English boy in all manners and overall taste and preference to settle and feel comfortable in the society. He did it so by taking up typical hobby like attending dance classes, acquiring acceptable taste in fashion and day to day life. Now he is satisfied with the newly acquired Englishness:

“Between the petting couples in the back row, he eats an ice and feels Englishness begin to stick to him, filming his skin like city grime. This is what he wanted. This is enough” (Kunzru 303). In this incarnation we notice the full embracing of new identity and manages himself to merge fully in the character of Bridgeman. “It seems to him that Bridgeman and he have always been the same person” (Kunzru 319).

He starts feeling like as if is the real Jonathan, However, there is always a tinge of fear in his mind to get exposed that is why he decides to bring his English identity to the perfection while staying at Oxford by becoming more acceptable and average. It is due to his chameleon –like skills that he manages to become almost common, invisible within the multitude of English student. He further succeeds in developing his relationship with an erratic Astarte Chapel and is ready to join his father’s expedition to study a lost tribe of Fotse in Africa. But it is highly ironic that the reason for her rejection was declaring him too conventional and too English nature. “I know you, Johnny. I feel I know all there is about you. You’re very sweet, but you’re exactly like everybody else. You are the most conventional person I know, Johnny. […] You’re the most English person I know” (Kunzru 415). With this disheartening confirmation of Pran’s flawless Englishness and mediocrity, an important stage of Pran’s life comes to its end. But later, he contemplates that he has done everything and fashioned himself so perfectly to suit his desired Englishness.

Impressionist transformation:

He has made himself into an accurate facsimile of the right man for her. Is it too late to change? Maybe he should revert to an earlier incarnation. Or should he go on? (Kunzru 418).Pran broods on his past series of transformations and witnesses a performance in a Russian cabaret which reminds him of his own life. He noticed a small man on the stage continuously changing various costumes with every turn away from the audience, simultaneously changes his identity as perceived by the audience : “In between each impression, just at the moment when one person falls away and the next has yet to take possession, the impressionist is completely blank. There is nothing there at all” (Kunzru 419)

Hence, with this image his previous life is concluded by a few minutes act which show the true nature of his transformation. Each incarnation overshadowed his previous identity and reducing his true identity and his soul into a quick fading zone just leaving few traces of his original self. Now, the question does arise who he actually is and what his true identity is

 There is every possibility that a person who has gone through so many changes is really only a blank canvas upon which newer identities, pictures and ideas are projected without any deeper essence, without any specific, true identity’ which would lie beneath. It seems that this is the first time Pran becomes truly aware of his identity crisis and starts to think about who he actually is. He understands that his original identity, created during his childhood, is completely vanished out finding incompatibility with the new environment, new state of affairs. Since then, his further incarnations were always formed in order to just survive, to fit the new milieu and Pran is not given much choice to think about them, nor to ponder over their suitability or rightness. He only adapts himself to the new situation and keeps moving.

The final solution of his identity crisis and searching for his actual, true roots is facilitated by the stay with the primitive Fotse tribe, which is the object of exploration and in that expedition Pran (Jonathan) takes part. When all European, members of the expedition have been killed, Pran is the only one to be spared and even offered help: “Gently, the old man [the spiritual leader] lets him know the worst: that he has been possessed by a European spirit. He can draw the spirit out” (Kunzru 475). Only the ritual chief of a primitive tribe is able to detect infallibly the symptoms of the colonial pressure, resulting in Pran’s existential uncertainty and persisting identity crisis.

 In this way Pran experiences his ritual cleansing of the artificially assumed European identity of all manners, customs and habits that he has been painfully absorbing so far. Due to which he suffers a lot .Now, he is allowed to return to the state of a free individual whose life is not determined by other people’ expectations, requirements and necessities. As a person free of any bonds with the civilized world, the Impressionist starts a journey through the desert, an isolated place where “the journey is everything. He has no thought of arriving or reaching anywhere. Tonight he will sleep under the enormous bowl of the sky. Tomorrow he will travel on” (Kunzru 481). In this way the impressionist travels alone, relies on himself and lives for his own sake. He doesn’t need to accommodate to anybody else’s view of the world anymore. In other words, he adopts the nomadic way of life, as opposed to the settled one, Hence, Pran is no more a victim of borders, nationalities or clearly defined races, but is rather connected with the Earth, as a human being moving around the world without any rigid connections and bonds. Throughout the story, Pran is able to adjust his identity perfectly to the current requirements of the situation he has found himself in. Therefore, he can appear both black and white, adopt new identities which would facilitate his survival and accommodate to any new situation the fate brings him. Hence, Pran’s personality keeps transforming throughout the text and takes a multiple level of transition. Most of them were demanded by the social-circumstance and existential concern whiles few taken willingly to unfold his true self.


Hence we can conclude that Identity is an inseparable part of our social recognition and status. It allows us to venture into the realm of social fabrics. Every individual always prefers to have a strong and well defined social standing in particular section of any society. Still there are factors which come into play and make the identity of any individual a continual process of shaping and redefining in any changing social scenarios. The leading characters of the novels, Goggal and Prannath suffer a lot. Their mental anguish and social discontentment becomes a predicament for them in such ever changing situation. Gogol finds it too difficult to adjust in mainstream America culture with such shallow identity which gives the feel of otherness and it becomes almost unbearable for him to carry the same name although his teenage, so he changes himself to adjust better in existing society. However, later gets disillusioned with the issue of his name and shows a deep concerns towards his roots and culture and family. While in case of Prannath, it is a sorrow tale of multiple personas he has to bear in the journey with no specific end. However, in the later stage when he becomes convinced that he can take a great advantage being having look of European. He manipulates the situations and tries to put himself in the best possible ways. Evidently, we can state that identities for these characters are not static rather a continual shifting and shaping is there and it is all due the kind of changing social scenario they lived in.

Introduction to the Author:

Sanjay Thakur is a research scholar at JNU, Rajasthan. He has been indulged in research activities and has produced many articles of value.

References: (Primary Sources)
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Kunzru, Hari. The Impressionist. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

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Batra, Jagdish. Jumpha Lahiri’sThe Namesake: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2010

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Lahiri’s World in The Namesake” Literature of Diaspora: Cultural Dislocation, ed. Shaikh Samad. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2009. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.Heterotopia” (1967) (trans. Jay Miskowiec). Available: http://www.foucault.info./documents/heteroTopia.

Hall, ‘The Quesition of Cultural Identity.’Modernity in its Futures. London: Polity Press, 1999: 273-326. Print.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Critique 50.1, 2008.111-125.

Sharma, Monika. “Rootless Gogol – Quest for Identity in The Namesake.” Mapping Migrations: Perspectives on Diasporic Fiction. Ed.Charu Sharma. New Delhi: Books Plus, 2006. 47 – 63.

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994. Print.

Sinha, Aditya. ‘The Namesake: The Malady of Naming‛. Hindustan Times, September 28, 2003 Lahiri, Jhumpa. “The Namesake”, Boston Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “The Post Colonial Critic: Interview, Strategies, Dialouges ” ed. Sarah Harasym. (Routeledge,1997)p.192

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