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Bengali Cultural Identity and ‘Multi-cultural America’ in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2003): A Cultural Anthropologist Approach

Mouloud Siber, Bouteldja Riche


Borrowing concepts from cultural anthropology, our paper argues the point that Jhumpa Lahiri affirms her Bengali cultural identity and substantiates it as a reality in multi-cultural America. In her novel The Namesake (2003), she deploys three items of the Bengali culture and imposes them on the American scene. She does so by drawing on Bengali habit/ costume, ritual/ceremony and language to express her cultural identity. She depicts Bengali rituals and ceremonies related to birth, death, and marriage to mark the Bengali bearing of her characters. She highlights Bengali food habits which are used as means of cultural gathering among members of the Bengali/Indian diaspora of the United States and Indian costumes as the fabric that makes their cultural belonging. The third cultural component she refers to is the Bengali language, which when used symbolizes cultural belonging. As the cultural product of a representative author of the Indian diaspora in the United States, Lahiri’s novel fits in Susan Koshy’s definition of the fiction of Asian-American literature and her concept of ‘space-claiming’ through ethnic or cultural identity.

Kewords: Lahiri; Bengali culture; habit/ costume; ritual/ ceremony; language; immigrant identity; multi-culturalism. 

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