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The Namesake, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 971

Essay

Insofar as Mira Nair’s 2006 film “The Namesake” is constituted by a narrative that is heavily based on social relations, the piece is an exemplary object for analysis through concepts endemic to the field of communication strategies. The primary tension in the film can be described as cultural: the generational gap between first generation and second generation Indian immigrants in the United States immediately suggests the theme that culture can overdetermine relationships and communication. In other words, the film’s central thesis from a communications perspective is that relationships and communication are informed through a radically cultural or ideological paradigm, where “cultural” or “ideology” refers to given social mores and norms that vary according to the particular group under consideration. According to this main thematic concern of the film, the following analysis shall approach “The Namesake” through an analysis of the concepts of conflict and diversity as they are portrayed in the film. “The Namesake” is essentially a film that depicts relationships through the perspective of conflict, which on a deeper level indicates the ubiquity of culture and ideology’s presence within relationships that are at first glance thought to be deeply personal and intimate.

The lead character Gogol is the main point of convergence for conflict within the narrative. This complicates communication and relation, as Gogol essentially finds his subjective identity split between the two dominant cultural paradigms in his life: that of the Indian and the American. Accordingly, as the American-born son of Indian immigrants, Gogol finds his relationships and communication determined above all by aspects of conflict, to the extent that he is essentially a part of two distinct cultural paradigms. Hence, his relationship to his parents, Ashoke and Ashima, is mediated by both his identity as an Indian and as a naturalized American. Gogol essentially occupies both paradigms simultaneously, whereas his parents remain entrenched in a predominantly Indian cultural paradigm, while his American friends obviously entrenched in an American cultural paradigm. What is a crucial site of conflict in the story is Ashoke and Ashima’s resistance to the assimilation of their son to an American identity. This is viewed as a certain rejection or shame for his own culture and is interpreted as such by his mother, for example, when she intimates that Gogol would rather spend time with the American parents of his lover than his own parents. At the same time, however, a further subtext here is that the parents essentially realize on an unconscious level that they are perhaps guilty for this assimilation: it was after all they who had decided to move to America, and thus Gogol’s exposure to the cultural assimilation is a result of their choice for immigration. This double-bind of conflict, in terms of an inner conflict as the parents realize that this assimilation is the product of their actions, and their simultaneous external conflict as a resistance to their son’s assimilation, suggests that communication is ultimately determined in the last instance by the commitment to a chosen cultural paradigm. In other words, the possibility of communication occurs and is defined according to such a paradigm; conflict arises when such paradigms are too heterogeneous. Accordingly, if a subject wholly embraces a cultural or ideological paradigm, communications across different paradigms becomes difficult: low intensity conflicts can become high intensity conflicts according to a rejection of communication itself. As Rahim suggests, “there is a growing impetus for a macro-oriented understanding of conflict contexts….particularly in conflicts involving cultural differences between disputants.” (31) This suggests that cultural differences and communication strategies cannot be merely analyzed on a micro or personal level but rather require a greater macro or cultural and ideological strategy. Ashima’s choice at the end of the film to return to India can be viewed as an endorsement of this macro-level approach: the resolution to the culturally generated conflict is radical, as it is the decision to return to her native land.

This decision can be viewed as a certain negative perspective on diversity in communication and social relations: there is no true diversity possible in present society. Ashima’s decision to return home means that she was unable to create communication strategies within an American cultural and ideological paradigm without sacrificing her own Indian cultural and ideological paradigm. On the other hand, Gogol is able to function in the American society, however only to the extent that he assimilates into the latter, which engenders hostility from the perspective of his parents. Accordingly, diversity can be viewed as engendering the very “possibility of conflict.” (Stockdale & Crosby, 113) Diversity immediately suggests heterogeneity in relationships and traditional communication strategies, as well as heterogeneous ideological and cultural paradigms. Whereas diversity may be resolved through strategies that attempt to emphasize the common ground between such paradigms, “The Namesake” suggests that such a common ground may in some cases be unreachable without a compromise, or a certain sacrifice of viewpoints, as in the case of Gogol.

Accordingly, the Namesake views communication strategies and relational process dynamics through the lens of culture and ideology. Differences in the latter in the form of diversity engender conflict. The film implies ultimately that such conflict is irresolvable without a pronounced effort to overcome such diversity, or rather to re-interpret diversity in terms of a common ground. Gogol’s success at achieving this common ground is viewed by his parents as a betrayal of his “native” culture and ideology. In this regard, “The Namesake” can be said to provide one solution to communication strategies and relational processes, through the resolution of conflict as embodied in the character of Gogol, while at the same time presenting the failure of such strategies and relations in the character of Ashima.

Works Cited

Rahim, M. Afzalur. Theory and Research in Conflict Management. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990.

Stockdale, Margaret S. and Crosby, Faye J. The Psychology and Management of Workplace Diversity. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.

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