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The Novel Desirable Daughters By Bharati Mukherjee English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2521 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri portray the journey of self-identity through the protagonists of each novel. The central characters of both novels lose themselves by putting on fake personalities while running away from their Indian identities. However, both characters mature through the constant struggles they face between retaining their Indian heritage while assimilating in America, the tragic events that take place in their lives, along with exploring their namesake. Tara Chatterjee of Desirable Daughters and Gogol Ganguli of The Namesake find their self-identity, realizing that running away from who they really are will just increase the gap between their Indian heritage and their American lifestyles.

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In Desirable Daughters, the protagonist Tara Chatterjee, constantly suffers from cross-culture experiences while coping with her American-born teenage son and her Indian family members. Subsequent to her divorce, Tara, who possess the custody of her son, lives in house of her own with her son. While trying to forget her past, she starts to create a new world in which she is free to live her own life. She loses contact with her old friends and barely communicates with her sisters and parents (who aren’t aware of the divorce). However, Tara’s Indian beliefs, values and tradition still remain with her. As well as that, her personality is no different from before. As a single mother, Tara faces new challenges in terms of fulfilling her son’s needs and wants. Since Rabi (Tara’s son) is born and raised in America, his lifestyle is different than his mother’s in the sense that he is not used to living with a large family, where everyone has no rights inside the household (except the elders) and the fact that one cannot make his/her own decision. When Rabi first declares his sexuality, “Ma, I am gay…It’s another first for the family” (Mukherjee 172), Tara gets the shock of her life. According to Tara, not only is this unacceptable in the Bengali society and culture to be gay but it is also against her beliefs. Just like Rabi says, it really is a first for Tara. Sadly, Tara accepts the truth and copes with it because she loves her son and she cannot afford to lose him by arguing with him. At this point in time, she realizes that she must leave behind her Indian lifestyle and values to get along with Rabi in the future. With this influence, she slowly begins to adapt to an American lifestyle and eventually starts to drift away from her Indian identity. This drastic change gets in her way when she visits her sister Padma in New Jersey after many years. She realizes that she disappoints her sister in many ways. Her clothes were the total opposite of her sister’s sari and she spoke English inside the house instead of Bengali. With each ‘American’ move that Tara makes, she makes Padma angry. While attending Bengali parties with Padma, Tara receives disappointed looks from many guests. After observing Tara for a few days, Padma tells her younger sister that “You seem so American, but you’ve got an obsession with India, a very strange aspect of India” (Mukherjee 152). At first Tara finds this remark insulting, however, later, she understands that somewhere deep down she is still attached to her roots and that is where her real self lies. From putting on a fake personality and lifestyle, she realizes that if she continues this onwards, she will just widen the gap between the two cultures she is a part of.

Similarly, the character of Gogol Ganguli in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, also struggles to hold on to his relationships with family members and girlfriends because of culture clashes. Since Gogol is born and raised in America, his ideas always oppose those of his parents. This problem occurs consistently in his life, he never understands his parents. Also, because he is constantly forced into a cultural conflict, he tries very hard to run away from his confused self and eventually ends up building a fake life. After moving out of his parents’ house Gogol “prefers New York, a place which his parents do not know well, whose beauty they are blind to, which they fear” (Lahiri 126). Soon, he begins to live two separate lives; one as an Indian at home and one as an American outside of home. Sometimes, “… he feels as if he’s cast himself in a play, acting the part of twins, indistinguishable to the naked eye yet fundamentally different” (Lahiri 105). Gogol lies to himself thinking that by assimilating into American culture and completely isolating himself from his parents, he will find a solution to his confused state. However, it complicates things even more. In terms of love affairs, Gogol’s relationships with girls never last for a long time because each time, Gogol tries not to be like his Indian parents. Though, this is impossible because he isn’t raised as an American. His habits and his Indian personality always come in between. All of his relationships are based on secrecy and dishonesty. Gogol also tries to hide these affairs from his parents because he believes that they would not approve them. This not only creates a vast gap between Gogol and his parents but it also becomes a reason for his never-lasting relationships. At one point in time, Gogol dates a Bengali girl of his mother’s choice. This affiliation lasts more than his past relationships and eventually turns into a marriage. From this strong bond, Gogol is able to see the failures in his past and how his parents were able to hold on to their culture despite living away from their own parents. Eventually, he learns that he cannot create his own paths in life that draw a boundary between his life outside of home and with his family. His unsuccessful relationships and his detached bond with his parents taught him to redefine himself.

Certain events in both novels represent the turning points in the central characters’ lives. For Tara, her divorce makes a negative impact on her personality and her future. Prior to the divorce, she is an ideal housewife whose inner desire of being an American wife is not fulfilled. Tara “left Bish [her husband] after a dozen years of marriage because the promise of life as an American wife wasn’t being fulfilled” (Mukherjee 85). Despite the fact that Bish is a rich entrepreneur in California whose wife does not have to work, Tara feels the need to pursue her career and gain independence and freedom from her household responsibilities. This clash of ideology between Bish and Tara not only causes her divorce, but it changes Tara’s attitude towards her own life. Once she is free, she learns to give up her identity in order to get along with her son. Thus, she adapts the American lifestyle in a short time. She lives with her Hungarian boyfriend, who teaches her to live a carefree life. Nevertheless, Tara’s excitement and happiness only last for a few days. Her struggles become that of a new immigrant; she has to earn her own money and raise her son on her own. Since Tara is caught up in living an American life away from her ex husband, she loses contact with his group of Indian friends (who were also very close to Tara). With the lack of friends and support, Tara is not able to see how much she has changed after the divorce and no one is available to guide her back to her true personality. Later, when Tara meets Bish through her son, she hears him mention that “marriage is a man’s dharma, his test, his duty, the outer sign of his inner strength and harmony” (Mukherjee 279). Hearing this, Tara understands that her married life was what gave her inner peace. She also notices that when she is around Bish, she does not have to be anyone else.

Unlike Tara, Gogol comes to self-realization at the cost of losing his father. This tragic event brings him closer to his family. Gogol “knows now the guilt that his parents carried inside, at being able to do nothing when their parents had died in India” (Lahiri 179), and being able to do nothing or even getting a chance to see his father moments before he died. This guilt makes Gogol recall all the times he spent in his past trying to defy his Bengali customs and the times he ran away from his identity. After this unfortunate event, “Gogol is back in his room, with a bed he’s never shared with Moushumi [his wife], or with anyone” (Lahiri 287). Not only does Gogol spend more time at home (where he finds serenity away from confusion and problems in his life), but he is also able to better understand his mother. He performs various rituals after his father’s death which he once thought were silly. The emptiness his father leaves behind makes Gogol realize how important each member in his family is and that the feeling of togetherness is what makes his life worthwhile at his parents’ home than at his own in New York. Through remorse and shame, Gogol is able to connect with his sister and mother and is also able to tie the bond he once broke. The most important lesson Gogol learns from his father’s death is that no matter how far he tries to run away from his family, and build a new life to please himself, in the end he will find inner peace and his true well being at home.

The protagonists of both novels ultimately find their real identities through their namesakes. In adapting an American lifestyle, changing her personality to fit in and satisfying the needs of her American-born son, Tara Chatterjee gets a divorce, faces new challenges in life and becomes a big disappointment to her Bengali friends and family. Because of these events, she states that there is “No one behind, no one ahead. The Path the ancients cleared has closed. And the path, everyone’s path, easy and wide goes nowhere. I am alone and find my way” (Mukherjee Prologue). Tara realizes that the confusion created by living an American and Indian life, causes her to give up on her culture and customs. It takes her a while to grasp that her personality has changed drastically and that it is her responsibility to find her way back to her identity before it is too late. With this thought, Tara decides to visit her ancestral roots in India. Upon reaching India, Tara states “I’ve come back to India this time for something more than rest and shopping and these gin-and-lime filled evenings with my mirror-self. I’m like a pilgrim following the course of the Ganges all the way to its source” (Mukherjee 306). In the need to find her pure, inner-soul just like the people who visit the Ganges to remove their sins in the holy river, Tara discovers that she is named after her great-grandmother (who happens to be her namesake). After researching, she understands that her namesake was a saint who fought to preserve her Bengali culture against the British. From this, Tara not only understands that she never lives up to her great-grandmother’s name but she also realizes how different her personality is from her great-grandmother’s. She comprehends that by living life on her own terms, without leaving behind her true identity and culture; she will be satisfied and will please herself and her family members.

Gogol Ganguli of The Namesake tries to redefine himself by changing his name to Nikhil. According to him, changing the name he received from his namesake would be less of an embarrassment in front of his colleagues, friends and girlfriends. He believes that by becoming Nikhil, he will get a girlfriend and most importantly be able to fit in with his American friends. In the beginning Gogol “fears being discovered, having the whole world charade somehow unravel, in nightmares his files are exposed, his original name printed on the front page of the Yale Daily News” (Lahiri 106). Also, he loses his self-esteem because of the fear he lives in. Though, later after changing his name, “there is only one complication: he doesn’t feel like Nikhil…but after eighteen years of Gogol, two months of Nikhil feels scant, inconsequential” (Lahiri 105). Along, with this fear, surfaces guilt for changing his name. The name he acquires holds importance in his father’s life because once his father was saved by a book, written by his father’s favourite author, Nikolai Gogol, during a tragic train accident. Nikolai Gogol’s book was given to Gogol on his birthday, by his father but Gogol never understands the significance of his name or the book until after his father passes away. When Gogol’s mother decides to move to India after her husband’s death, she asks him to clean out his room. It was then that Gogol saw the book written by his namesake. Because of what he learned from his experiences through culture clashes, relationships and his father’s death, he realizes how valuable his name is to his identity and how it connects him to his parents. Through guilt, he comprehends all the events that have occurred in his life and why those “events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, and comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured in the end” (Lahiri 287). Gogol learns that his name is what defines his true personality and that he must accept his fate instead of trying to perfect it.

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Desirable Daughters and The Namesake have main characters who struggle to find themselves. Both individuals begin with exploring American culture and end up assimilating in to it. They also have issues with self-identity because they have differences they cannot come to terms with. Tara Chatterjee loses herself into American lifestyle very easily. Because there is no one to guide her, she slowly begins to drift away from Indian identity. However, after culture clash experiences and her divorce, she realizes that she has to re-discover herself by digging into her past and finding the history behind her namesake, before she becomes baffled between two cultures. Gogol Ganguli, being an American-born, cannot understand and cope with the distinctions between his parents and his peers. As he matures, he is faced with disastrous relationships and the death of his father which eventually leads him to self-realization through exploring his namesake that helps define his Indian identity. By overcoming culture clashes, tragic events and exploring their namesake, both characters come to realize that what they have been trying to get away from is exactly what defines them.


Mukherjee, Bharati. Desirable daughters.USA: Hyperion, 2003. Print.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003. Print.


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