This novel takes place in Tabasco, a state in Mexico, during the 1930s. Tabasco was the state where the most extreme ideas of the Mexican Revolution were implemented, where intense poverty caused a backlash against the social order that had oppressed the peasantry for more than a century.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Mexico’s dictator, Porfirio Dı´az, ran a corrupt government that suppressed the rights of the poor and the middle class. In the election of 1910, Dı´az was announced the winner by an overwhelming majority, but his opponent, Francisco Madero, who was living in the United States, declared that the election was illegitimate and that he was the true president. The question over the election riled the population to armed revolt: followers of Madero, as well as revolutionaries following Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa, rose up against the government. Dı´az resigned as president in May of 1911, and after a brief rule by an interim . . . Read More
The priest in The Power and the Glory finds his plans for escape foiled on several occasions because he feels that it is his responsibility to perform certain functions. Several times, for instance, he is asked to put his flight on hold because people need him to stay with them and hear their confessions. According to Catholic doctrine, Jesus conferred upon his disciples the power to forgive sins that were committed after baptism under certain conditions, and the same power was passed on to all ordained priests. In the sacrament of penance, a sinner who says confession to a priest and performs the penance that the priest assigns can be absolved of her or his sins. The importance of having sins absolved through this sacrament is shown in the novel when the priest knowingly walks into a trap set by the police because he is required by his oath to hear the confession of the American gangster, James Carver, who has expressed the desire . . . Read More
Brigida is the whiskey priest’s child, born from his one night of drunken passion with Maria more than six years earlier. In his absence, she has grown to be steely and unsentimental, a child of poverty who seems to have no interest in religion. She has adult features, and her face and her cynicism haunt the priest throughout his escape.
Carver is an infamous American gangster who has escaped to Mexico to evade the law. He is often referred to in the novel as ‘‘the Gringo,’’ an ethnic slur Mexicans in this novel use to describe Americans. The same policemen who are charged with capturing the whiskey priest are after him, and their photos are hung side-by-side over the desk of the police lieutenant. The priest is captured when he hears that the gangster, who has held an innocent young child in front of him to shield himself from bullets, is dying and wants to say confession. When the . . . Read More
Chapter One of the first part of The Power and the Glory begins with Mr. Tench, a British dentist who is hoping to make enough money some day to go home. He strikes up a conversation with an educated stranger who he assumes is a doctor; this is the man referred to in the novel as the priest or the whiskey priest, who has come to the capital city to meet a man named Lopez, hoping that Lopez will be able to get him out of the country. They have a drink together, and Tench tells him that Lopez was shot the week before by the chief of police, who wanted Lopez’s girlfriend. A boy comes to Tench’s office and says that he needs help because his mother is sick, and Tench tells the priest to go, still thinking he is a doctor. The priest objects, but Tench tells him that the boat he wants to leave the country on will not leave for hours or days. Following the boy into the jungle, the priest prays that he will be caught soon.
Chapter Two follows the . . . Read More
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake opens with a pregnant Ashima attempting to recreate a favorite snack from India. This image, of a woman clearly homesick and disconnected from her roots, sets the tone for Gogol’s birth shortly thereafter. When the infant Gogol is named, a further disconnection is underlined in the form of a lost letter from India, one containing the boy’s intended formal name. This twist of fate leaves Gogol with no more than a pet name, albeit one with great significance. Despite this, his parents Ashoke and Ashima hope to replace the name when Gogol begins his formal education. However, the five-year-old Gogol, too young to question who he is, accepts only his pet name, rejecting his formal name, Nikhil. Here, another twist of fate, again underlying the Gangulis’ foreignness, occurs. Gogol’s American teachers, unfamiliar with the Indian tradition of pet and formal names, accept Gogol’s birth certificate and his wishes.
As Gogol grows up, . . . Read More
Russian author Nikolai Gogol was born in Velikie Sorochintsy, in what is now Ukraine, on March 20, 1809. His parents, Maria Ivanovna and Vasilii Afanas’evich Gogol-Ianovsky owned land; though the family was not rich, they were relatively well off. Gogol was the first infant in the family to survive, though Maria Ivanovna and Vasilii Afanas’evich went on to have five more children. Gogol began writing satirical poetry in high school, though he was not a good student. However, after his father died in 1825, Gogol pursued his studies with greater dedication. It was around this time that he began writing longer poems, but few, if any, have survived. In 1828, Gogol moved to St. Petersburg in the hopes of securing employment, but he was sorely disappointed by the low-level civil service positions available to him. He eventually took a poorly paying job that left him with enough time to pursue his writing. In 1829 he self-published . . . Read More
Omniscient Third-Person Narrator
The use an omniscient third-person narrator in The Namesake gives the reader insight into the private thoughts of each of the novel’s characters. This narrative device allows the reader to observe both the outer and inner realities of each character. In this way, the reader truly understands the angst and anxiety that are experienced by Ashima, Gogol, and Moushumi, as well as their perceived reasons for those feelings. On the other hand, the omniscient narrator simultaneously acts as a distancing device. If the novel were told from a first-person point of view, particularly from Gogol’s perspective, then the reader would identify directly with the narrator’s actions. The book would also take on a more conversational tone, as if the reader and the first-person narrator were interacting directly. Instead, the narration becomes somewhat static, matter-of-factly relating Gogol’s actions and thoughts over the . . . Read More
One of the main themes in the novel is that of the immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima are immigrants traveling from the country they have always known to make their life in a vastly foreign land. While Ashoke is able to throw himself into his work, through Ashima readers catch a glimpse of the anxiety and alienation of foreigners. In the first sentence of the novel, Ashima is attempting to make a snack resembling her favorite food back home. However, the attempt is an inexact copy; the original ingredients are unavailable in Cambridge, and Ashima can only effect an approximation. This first image applies to much of Ashoke and Ashima’s lives. Their Bengali friends are an approximation of the extended family they left behind. Their attempts to name Gogol according to the Indian tradition of pet names and formal names are misconstrued and ultimately abandoned, another failed approximation. Indeed, even as the years go . . . Read More
Ben is introduced in the second half of the novel as Sonia’s boyfriend. He eventually becomes Sonia’s husband. Ben makes Sonia happy, a fact that both Gogol and Ashima acknowledge. Ben acts as a contrast to Moushumi, who has failed to make Gogol happy.
Dimitri Desjardins is the man with whom Moushumi has an affair. The two originally met when Moushumi was in high school and Dimitri was in college. At that time, the two had struck up a pseudo-romantic relationship that lasted off and on for several years, yet that relationship was never consummated. When Moushumi later comes across Dimitri’s resume´, she secretly contacts him and finds that he has become a balding, unemployed, middle-aged man with a sad apartment. Nonetheless, she begins an affair with him.
Ashima is Ashoke’s wife and the mother of Gogol and Sonia. She . . . Read More
Ashima Ganguli is nearly nine months pregnant with her first child. She is in her apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her husband, Ashoke, is studying for his doctorate in engineering in the next room. Ashima’s labor begins, and the couple takes a taxi to the hospital. After Ashima has checked in, Ashoke leaves her there and promises to return. Ashima has been in the United States for a year and a half, leaving Calcutta immediately following her arranged marriage to Ashoke. Alone at the hospital, Ashima is afraid to raise her child in America. By four o’clock the following morning, Ashima has reached the final stages of her labor, and Ashoke returns to the hospital, where he sits in the waiting room.
He paces and thinks of the fateful train accident that has brought him to this moment. As an undergraduate student in India, Ashoke had been on a train on his way to visit his grandfather. . . . Read More