Summary and Analysis Chapter 12

 

Summary

On Christmas Eve the following year, Ashima prepares for a final party at her house on Pemberton Road. She’s sold the house and plans to spend six months of each year in Calcutta and the other six months with her children and friends in America. Ashima knows the move is inevitable: Sonia and Ben are engaged to be married, and Ashima can’t live alone in such a large house.

Ashima thinks that Sonia and Ben will be a good match, will make each other happy in a way Gogol and Moushumi never did. She feels guilty for having matched up Gogol and Moushumi, and she is grateful that they separated rather than remain in an unhappy marriage as Bengali tradition dictates.

As Gogol rides the train to Boston, he remembers how his marriage ended a year ago on another train ride. Moushumi accidentally mentioned Dmitri’s name, her hand flying to her mouth as she caught herself. Gogol suddenly realized that she was having an affair, and when he asked, Moushumi confessed. Within weeks, they divorced and Moushumi moved back to Paris. Alone, Gogol went on the vacation in Italy he had initially planned for both of them.

Sonia and Ben pick up Gogol at the train station, and they go home to Ashima’s to decorate the house for one last Christmas. Guests arrive for the party, and Ashima sends Gogol upstairs to look for his father’s camera. While he is upstairs, he sees the collection of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories, given to him by his father years ago. In it, he finds an inscription that he never read. Reflecting on the history of his name, Gogol begins to read the book.

Analysis

The choice to end the novel with a Christmas party hosted by Ashima is significant. Gogol and Sonia had instigated the Gangulis’ Christmas traditions when they were kids by begging to celebrate the holiday like their other American friends. At first, Ashima and Ashoke felt like Christmas was a concession to American culture, a betrayal of their Bengali roots. But over time, the Ganguli Christmas became an occasion to bring together other Bengalis living in America and make great quantities of Indian food. Not only did the parties represent something uniquely American, but they represented something uniquely Bengali as well. In this way, the Christmas tradition becomes a symbol of the Gangulis’ Bengali American identity.

This distinctive blend of American and Bengali cultural values now characterizes the Gangulis in a variety of ways. Ashima plans to spend six months of each year in Calcutta and six months in America. Bengali culture dictates that Gogol and Moushumi should have stayed together despite their unhappy marriage, but Ashima is glad that they separated. She’s happy for Sonia’s relationship with non-Bengali Ben, suspecting that the two of them will be happier together than Gogol and Moushumi ever were.

Ashima still retains some of her Bengali attitudes toward love as well. While she wonders what it would have been like to fall in love with Ashoke at the beginning of their relationship as a matter of choice rather than after years of marriage, she doesn’t deny that what she had with Ashoke was a deep and fulfilling kind of love, a love that would never have come about had it not been for their arranged marriage. Because of Gogol’s American influence, he enjoys a romantic freedom Ashima never felt, but he is also missing the experience of romance that Ashima ultimately enjoyed. The novel thus refuses to answer the question of whether American or Bengali attitudes toward love and romance are “better.”

The novel began with Ashima leaving home, and it now ends in the same way. America, which once felt so foreign to Ashima, the place that she demanded Ashoke take her away from so she could return “home” to India and raise her children properly, has become her home against all odds. She realizes that the Pemberton Road house is the place Ashoke will always feel most alive to her because this is where they created all of their memories.

Gogol achieves a clarity of identity in this chapter that has eluded him previously. His failed marriage with Moushumi feels like a part of his history that is no longer relevant to the present, like a “name he’d ceased to use.” He begins to realize, however, that all of his past names and identities still leave a permanent mark of who he becomes: His identity is a mixture of all the names and experiences he has ever had. Thus he is “Gogol” as well as “Nikhil”; he is, for better or worse, the former lover of Ruth and Maxine and Bridget and Moushumi. Rediscovering his father’s gift of The Short Stories of Nikolai Gogol is like rediscovering a part of him that has been lost. His choice to read the short-story collection is a choice to be at peace with the name “Gogol.”

 
 
 
 
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