The Cultural Barrier of Being an Immigrant
You are at school or work, surrounded by people who all dress and act the same way- American. You go home and as you walk through the door you step into India. Your parents greet you in Bengali, you can smell the spices coming from the kitchen, and you begin to wonder where you belong. This cultural divide and search for belonging is felt by many people and is portrayed in various literary works. Jhumpa Lahiri, a pulitzer prize winner for her books and short stories, was born to Bengali parentage and later moved to the U.S. Throughout her life she searched for acceptance as she tried to fit into her dual life. In her novel, The Namesake, and the collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, many characters symbolize this emotion. Lahiri, the renowned American Indian author, spent much of her life in pursuit of acceptance, as expressed in the cultural barrier depicted through the characters Gogol, Mrs. Sen and Lilia.
In the story, The Namesake, the protagonist, Gogol, experiences internal conflict with accepting his cultural background similar to Lahiri’s own predicaments. Gogol is a second generation immigrant as his parents are part of an arranged marriage and came to the United States before he was born. Similar to Lahiri, he experiences a lack of belonging as he tries to figure out if he is American or Indian. As a child he tries to change his name, later has an American girlfriend, and moves away from his family, all as an attempt to reject a dual identity. Growing up, “ the Ganguli parents struggle with adapting to a different culture than they are used to, [and] their children (Gogol and Sonia) struggle with adapting to American society” (Voices 7). Unlike first generation immigrants, second generation immigrant experiences are complicated as they experience a collision of cultures. At school, Gogol tries to behave like the American children and seeks acceptance from them. At home, he lives by his parents beliefs and tries to understand his culture. For a child, this double life can be challenging, and when writing The Namesake, Lahiri was connecting this to her own background. Growing up, she was “admonished not to ‘behave’ like an American, or, worse, to ‘think’ of [herself] as one” (Heaven 1). Gogol feels the same way because while his parents want a good life for him, they also don’t want him to forget his culture. In his parent’s eyes, he is forever Indian no matter where he lives, and they do not want him to be influenced by his American surroundings. Gogol connects to Lahiri in many ways, and when writing this story Lahiri was representing her own life struggles through Gogol.
Mrs. Sen, the main character in Lahiri’s short story, Mrs. Sen’s, is a reflection of Lahiri’s own problems with accepting her cultural background. Mrs. Sen is about thirty, and lives at home with her husband Mr. Sen who teaches mathematics at the university. She watches a boy named Elli...