Conflict Of Modern Vs Traditional Culture English Literature Essay

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The system of immigration is of sole importance in the US national development. The country mainly stands on immigration driven transformation throughout the history. Looking back in history, large scale immigration took place in 1970s and process continues till date. The twist of 21st century brought about many changes in the world. The immigration system of US has taken a sharp turn. Much important is the incident of 9/11 and the period following it.

Immigrants, after having spent decades of their lives in alien environment being away from home and native culture, come across many problems. The problems vary according to their nature, from social to cultural and economic to political; all problems mainly arise due to lack of assimilation and primary focus on separatism.

Assimilation demands merging of American immigrants into a new culture and adopting their way of life. Most first generation immigrants naturally stick to their mother country's values and norms. For this particular reason they face identity conflict on cultural level. The conflict also arises when the immigrant originally belongs to a culturally dominant group in the mother country and finds him/herself as a minority in the host country. If their cultural identity is rejected by the host society, he/she returns towards his/her native cultural identity.

Culture is an indispensable factor of conflict and its resolution. 'Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives' [1] it shapes our ideas, perceptions and judgments of self and other.

Asian- literature primarily addresses the concept of race.

Problem Statement:

The conflict among US immigrants about cultural assimilation is mostly expressed in South Asian American novels. The South Asian American novelists Mohsin Hamid and Jhumpa Lahiri portray some of cultural conflicts; for instance modern and traditional culture. Generally, American society perceives Asian immigrants' culture as traditional and considers their own culture and way of life to be modern in nature. So it is to be analyzed how such conflicts are presented by both the novelists in their works The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Namesake.

Research Questions:

On what basis the conflict of modern vs. traditional with respect to Pakistani immigrants is presented in the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

How Mohsin Hamid defines modern and traditional culture?

What according to Jhumpa Lahiri is modern and traditional culture?

How in The Namesake the clash of culture is presented with respect to Indian culture?

Are there any similarities in the way both novelists define the cultural conflict?

Objective of the study

The objective of this research is to study how conflict arises between the native and host cultures of immigrants. And to provide the variables on the basis of which the novelists have defined modern and traditional culture in their novels.

Significance of the study

The significance of this study lies in providing an in-depth analysis of the conflict that has emerged in pre and post 9/11 era with respect to The Namesake and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.


The study of conflict is based on qualitative analysis of cultural conflict in both the novels. It is based on theory of assimilation (model of Separatism). Separatism, Methodology is based on consultations from primary and secondary resources. Primary source is the text of two novels and secondary resources are research papers, print media, internet articles and critical commentaries of various critiques.

Organization of the study

Conflict of modern vs. traditional culture in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Conflict of modern vs. traditional culture in The Namesake.

Comparative analysis of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Namesake.

Literature Review

Culture means growing sum of "knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions" [2] possessed by a particular group of people. It implies that culture revolve around various parameters ranging from dress code to particular political affiliation.

Humans cannot flourish well in homogeneity; diversity is a key term in cultures. Conflict automatically arises with diversity among nature and culture of people.

The economy of US has been dependent on manpower from across the globe in the form of immigration. Dating back to history; starting from seventeenth century slave trade till date; immigrants have been the mainstream of US economic system.

Immigration, however, played a key role not only in making America's development possible but also in shaping the basic nature of the society. Immigration has given rise to problems of assimilation of one group into another from different backgrounds. People always come from varying cultures, nations, and carry differing identities; they cannot completely merge with each other. The differences always arise and cause issues of identity among people. [3] 

Since 'each of us possess several different identities of varying degrees of complexity, personal, social' [4] ; the inner desire to preserve the identities may not receive the same level of acceptance by the host society. This situation ultimately ascends cultural conflicts like identity, name, etc.

Huntington in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order presents his theory of clash of civilization as he believed that clash amongst nations is based upon culture. He writes:

Edward Said in his book Orientalism is of the view that occidentals considered orientalists especially Muslims to be barbaric, insensitive and inferior to Anglo-Saxon race thus presenting the clash of civilizations.

The hyphenated literature of America records such clashes. The Chinese exclusion in 1882 and the bigotry against Chinese immigrants in US are recorded in the following poem.

The similar kind of discriminatory behavior is also portrayed by Meena Alexander in her poem. The extract below narrated the story of bigotry against Asian immigrants in the US where equal opportunities were not available for them

Another critic Denna also comments upon the novel in the following words.

Similarly Pakistani-American novelist Mohsin Hamid in his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist also presents the situation of Pakistani immigrants in US by plotting the story in the backdrop of 9/11 attacks. Manish Chand, a critic quotes

According to Irfan Khawaja, the protagonist of the novel suffers from cultural and identity conflict, as he is of the opinion:

Chapter 2

History of Cultural Conflicts in US

Immigration from earliest settlement to the present:

Being a country comprised of immigrants, United States of America from its earliest to the present settlers have copious amount of ethnic, religious and cultural multiplicity. The earliest settlers brought about homogeneity as many comprised of white race and were religiously Protestants. But as the decades and centuries passed, Asians, Europeans and South American immigrants poured into the United States. Gradually the difference began to emerge. These differences primarily became apparent on religious, ethnic and racial level as these immigrants ranged from Catholics to Muslims and Hindus to Buddhists.

United States developed as an industrial nation after the arrival of European settlers that started at the end of fifteenth century. Population rise, battles on land, industrial revolution, and religious persecution were some of the reasons to make people leave their homeland. [5] 

The earliest immigrants from British Isles migrated to North America and brought with them the mainstream culture which still resonates and dominates in American way of life. Nevertheless, it was Spaniards who first formed the permanent settlement which is now called as Florida in 1565.

British developed the new land with the help of American Indians at first at Virginia colonies in 1607. They rated them as an inferior race having traditional and barbaric culture. They viewed them as slaves and tried to suppress them but remained unsuccessful. After realizing that they could no longer use them as slaves, they used corrosive means to move them off the area which settlers wanted for themselves.

On the other hand Spaniards used different methodology with the red Indians by integrating them in to their community and exploiting their labor. [6] 

Along with British and Spanish settlers, black landowners from West Indies also played a part in bringing African immigrants to US. Slavery soon became the main solution of problem of manpower in developing American lands especially the South where economy depended on rice, indigo and tobacco. [7] These immigrants were a result of forced migration and were required to work on hard conditions without their choice; it was one of the largest population displacements in the world history. The culture of African immigrants in US has received pejorative connotation as whites presumed their culture to be sophisticated and a model to be followed by the World. The clash of cultures later emerged out in the twentieth century.

The period between 1815 and World War I is significant in bringing about the greatest wave, an estimated 30 million, of European immigrants to the new land. The largest group was Irish, who became prey to British land laws and potato crop failure, in the mid nineteenth century. Germans constituted the second-largest group among European immigrants; most of them were middle class artisans and landless people who migrated due to Industrial upheaval in Europe During the epoch from 1890 to 1924, immigrants from Italy, central Europe and Russia started settling into the US.

The late nineteenth century in the United States is marked by immigration restrictions. Some state laws did not allow illiterate and anarchists to step on their soil. The need of restrictions arose as many believed that the culture of newcomers is spoiling the whole essence of American culture and way of living.

The turn of twentieth century and World War II brought about immigrants from Asia, Mexico and the South America.

Cultural conflict and Legislations:

The major cultural conflict in American history is mostly associated with African immigrants and their struggle to retain their own cultural identity with reference to their native land. Their struggle is marked by violence, peaceful protests, establishment of certain organizations like NAACP.

The time span of this struggle starts with the establishment of James Town when Africans were brought to the New world solely for economic purpose and their status were nothing but slaves. They were not even considered as human beings but mere as property, the beings that are devoid of any emotion whether pleasure or pain. For that particular reason, they were transported in inhumane conditions through transatlantic route. Sometimes they were chained around their necks and were given food after several hours. These conditions resulted in the deaths of so many Africans on ship and their dead bodies were used to be thrown in rivers. On their arrival to the New World they were sold and they were departed from their families. Langston Hughes, a famous African-American poet narrates the similar incident in his poem The Negro Mother.

After being sold, the slaves were put on mostly cotton, tobacco and potatoes plantation. Some of the slaves tried to show resistance regarding religion and culture and the remaining were put on so severe conditions that they could not think of anything else but pain.

Americans considered the slaves to be devoid of any culture and religion but despite persecution, slaves managed to retain some part of their native culture. Though folktales, slaves were able to save their culture from perishing in United States. Apart from that, they crafted certain objects in accordance with the traditions of Africa

As there was restricted time of leisure allotted to slaves especially on Sunday, the slaves used to rejoice themselves through dance and music. They used to play variety of musical instruments and the music for them connoted both spiritual as well as secular meanings. But not many slaveholders were lover of slaves music as many considered especially in South Carolina, the beating of drum as the call for rebellion on the part of the slaves.

When in 1776, America gained independence, the author of Declaration of Independence , Thomas Jefferson chose beautiful words to signify whtat the new country stands for in these words but the Constitution of United States and the practices spoke otherwise. Under the Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, while discussing about the representatives in the Government, give slaves the proportion of 'three fifth'. It is interesting that the authors of the constitution has not used the word slaves, but the word 'others' has been used for them.

After the independence of United States, the South economy stated to boom because of slave. They were expensive and the number of slaves determined the status of the land owners. Apart from few landowners no one allowed slave the right to education and if slaves used to run away to some other place, it was the law that they had to be returned back to hi/her owners. On the other hand North was moving towards industrialization. In 1860, during the presidential campaign, the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln based his campaign on anti slavery slogan, which highly disturbed the South because they reckoned the slogan as an attack to their economic institution and warned North that if slavery would be abolished, then they would secede. In early 19th century anti slavery societies began to operate who called for the rights of slaves.

The campaign became so severe in late 19th century the civil war broke out in 1861 and lasted till 1865. The Civil War resulted in the abolition of slavery. Behind the abolition of slavery there were various actors that played their part to raise awareness that blacks are also human beings and should be given appropriate rights. Abolitionist used various strategies; one amongst them was the publication of anti slavery alphabet. Through alphabets, the abolitionist presented their point of view in front of white Americans.

Despite the end of slavery, it existed in the form of segregation; more specifically through Jim Crow laws. The laws made segregation legal from transportation places, to theatre etc. The Jim crow laws connoted that blacks are separte and could never assimilate or adjust themselves with the whites based upon their culture and mental capabilities.

In an effort to revive their culture, African- American started to publish their literature and thus laid the foundation of jazz poetry, jazz music, etc which has now become the hall mark of American culture. The epoch of 1920s is marked by Harlem Renaissance or is often referred as Jazz age.

After facing hardships of decades, it was Rosa Parks who when refused to give seat to a white American was arrested and it laid the foundation of Montgomery bus boycott which later became one of the causative agents of Civil Rights movement of 1960s. The leader of the movement, Martin Luther King Jr called for an end to racial discrimination and demanded the equal rights for the colored people. He called for non violent civil disobedience which compelled US Government to put an end to Jim Crow Laws. Martin Luther King's sppech' I have a dream' is significant in this remark which calls for segregated free American society, where colored people would get equal chances of progress.

The history of ethnic and racial conflict is mostly recorded in parallel to the history of immigration in the United States. Moving in to a new society, the immigrant suffers from discrimination which varies in degrees ranging from verbal abuse to physical violence. This discrimination has to be experienced by the migrant if he/she wants to be recognized as Americans.

The Melting Pot theory formulated in eighteenth century is crucial to the understanding of cultural conflict in United States.

The basic postulate of melting pot theory requires all immigrants to assimilate into the American dominant culture. It laid stress on homogeneity on religious as well as an ethnic level. During the late eighteenth century, it is estimated that 99 percent of US population comprised of white Protestants. [8] They easily were able to assimilate themselves in white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) as there was uniformity among them in terms of ethnicity, religion, and race. [9] But for the migrant the whole story was upside down. They found it difficult to melt in to the dominant culture especially African immigrants with lower socio-economic status and color. They were assumed as mentally and physically inferior and their culture also became the victim of ethnocentrism. Similarly by the end of nineteenth century, it became questionable whether European immigrant of lower economic status could be assimilated.

Among immigrants, who were physically weak and were of lower economic status struggled hard to make their place in fast moving American society.

The American Congress, dreading foreign-born political reformists, passed the short lived Alien Act in 1798 to exorcise alleged spies. Although unwanted entering was controlled by local and state control on immigration; 'the first major federal immigration legislation excluded prostitutes and convicts in 1875.' [10] 

An alike display of persecution was observed against Asians on the West Bank. The gold rush of 1848 brought most Chinese immigrants to the country. Chinese came as individuals, not in families, since they intended to return back after earning significant amount of money. They primarily were employed to work on railroads as well on farms. The discrimination against Chinese included 'accusations of vice and idolatry.' They were considered inferior and a potential threat to Americans on economic level. For this particular reason, the bigotry against Asian also included use of violence. Native born Americans made use of legislation to remove this threat as Congress passed Chinese Exclusion Act in remain enacted till 1943.

During early 20th century Japanese immigrants entered US initially; soon they allegedly took away most jobs by providing cheap labor. The number of Japanese entering US was limited by the "gentlemen's agreement" signed between US and Japanese governments in 1907; ultimately all Asians were prohibited from entering US by the year 1924.

Racial profiling was not limited to work places but students at college campuses and religious places also suffered from bigotry.

The conflicts based on culture and race which demands 'their life-styles' be accepted and given space in the society are prevalent till date.

The increasing number of undocumented and illegal immigrants residing in US paved way to another wave of Nativism during 1980's and 1990's. Most illegal immigrants came from Mexico, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean. It was assumed by Americans that these people were taking away job opportunities and hence became a burden on economy of US.

Local political and social movements generated national demand to restrict immigration in late nineteenth century. The Ku Klux Klan's actions were strict against "foreigners" as well as against African Americans. Eastern and Southern Europeans were easily recognizable due to their appearance and traditions, which made them easy targets of bigotry.

Congress allocated quotas for immigrants comprising of complex sets of rules about national origin, most of which helped northern Europeans in the Immigration Act of 1924. President Harry S. Truman deviated from this policy when he granted asylum to European refugees who fled World War II. Quota system was revised to control immigration in McCarran-Walter Act (the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952), it also sustained marginalization of immigration from Asia. The Immigration Act of 1965 finally ended national origin to serve as basis for system of quotas.

After the incident of bomb shelling at Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese were "hauled away" by the FBI; restrictions and bans were placed on people of Japanese descent to be expatriated from US devoid of the fact that they had acquired US citizenship. They were caught and sent to internment camps. It gave an air of Japanese being captives of US forces. All the metaphors of "freedom and liberty" that were pure American phrases did not apply to Japanese immigrants in US.

Immigrants to the United States, have adapted to the new culture despite of their many cultural diversities; they have been displaced from the familiar lifestyles and having to settle in the alien life and the new circumstances. After assimilation, the new comers assume themselves as Americans; the situation becomes ironical when these assimilated groups start to doubt more recent immigrant groups as a threat to "American way of life."

By the turn of twenty first century, September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Centre and Pentagon terribly affected the lives of Asian immigrants in the United States most specifically, Muslims. Many of the immigrants became the target of bigotry, harassment, and hostility. In the year 2004, the council on American-Islamic relations processed a grand total of 1,522 incidents where immigrants complained of ethnic and religious profiling. Hence 9/11 has served as a catalyst for producing a cultural conflict among Asian immigrants. The religious differences are also contributing to this problem. The 9/11 incident, has brought this conflict to height and has proved American society a failure for multiculturalism.

Chapter 3

Cultural Clash in The Namesake

The Namesake is a remarkable autobiographical tale of the novelist. Jhumpa Lahiri, being brought up in Bengali-American family, shares immigrant experiences and all the underlying conflicts; she states about writing the perfect inscription in an interview:

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London, and bred and matured in Rhode Island (US); thus attaining an immediate familiarity with "living two lives in one". This distributed life made her much sensitive to "the intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new." [11] She has been successful in concisely portraying her diaspora experiences in a collection of short stories; Interpreter of Maladies (which won her the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2000). Similarly, once more catching the attention of literary world, through her first novel The Namesake; she

Houghton Mifflin Company published an interview of Jhumpa Lahiri , she expresses about The Namesake: " the novel is definitely about those who are culturally displaced or those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously".

Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake conveys clash of cultural assimilation; where first generation of immigrants natively belong to Bengal, India and are seen as traditional people loving their motherland and her culture. They don't assume America as their own place; but their son Gogol is born and bred in United States and he carries an opposite approach as that of his parents. Gogol is uncomfortable with his own name which carries in itself a whole history of his father's association with an author; he himself understands his name neither his friends outside the home and this becomes a source of tension for him. He also feels distress over his parents' Bengali rituals and rites that they occasionally practice. Such things become a source of inner battle for Gogol.

Immigration is a common practice in the present globalized age. People from across the world change places and face different languages, cultures, and everything that is new to their lives. One common situation that they all face is natives' unwillingness to accept them; this also applies within the country or within small states. Gogol, the protagonist, is unable to understand the account behind his name, when his father tries to explain. At one stage in his endeavors with his self, he isolates himself from the rest of his family to get rid of traditional culture; but he returns to his home after death of his father and adopts the rites that he used to practice. As a result of all this conflict, with his identity, he loses his girlfriend.

Gradually, Gogol turns back to his parent's culture and family, he finds himself attracted to a Bengalese girl that his mother introduced him to. He gets married to her; where it seems the story has finished happily, but that is not the case. Moushumi, who is a shy Bengalese young lady, after getting away from strict and traditional environment of her parents' house seems to enjoy the freedom of married life and loses interest in him and builds an affair.

The Namesake gives an insight into the lives of immigrants to United States, the cultural and identity crisis they find while assimilating into the new society. [12] 

The Gangulis, although live in United States but they socialize and live away from American culture as far as parents are concerned. Ashima wears traditional clothes and speak their native language. But once the children are in school, she observes American occasions like Christmas, but that too is celebrated in her Bengalese circle of friends and serves her home-based foods.

Gogol, seems in trouble all the time because of his inner conflict. He always detests Indian culture and wants to keep an American identity; as a result he doesn't even refrain from leaving his parents' home and abandon his relationship with family.

Issue of cuisine

The trouble regarding the cuisine also surfaces when Ashima realizes the difference of Chicken being butchered in the two countries i.e., India and America.


Gogol while assimilating into the land of his dreams, America, he wears American styled clothes. On the other hand when he visits India, he wears Indian clothes. This means that he has not abandoned both the identities. Yet at the same time he is confused regarding the choice of his apparel.

Difference of Perceptions regarding various countries:

The plot contains the best travelling experiences of characters regarding India, America, Paris and Venice. Each person assumes the places differently, from escape to home and freedom to failure To the children of first generation immigrants, on the other hand, their parents' native place seems old fashioned and outdated. Their lives become collaged between Indian and American rites as they face troubles with their selves in becoming Indian or Indian-American. As a result this conflict ends when in Europe where they can easily cut their connections.

The people live, share and celebrate even the minor events collectively in India, but the situation is different in United States. As the character of Mrs. Jones reveals that she lives alone and sees her children and grandchildren rarely; this is "a life that Ashoke's mother would find humiliating." [13] In America, the Ganguli children are raised up as Americans, and want to celebrate events as their fellows. For instance, Gogol celebrates his fourteenth birthday in two different ways, one traditional Bengali and other American.

The wedding of Moushumi and Gogol is also an example of clash between traditional and modern values. Their parents plan the whole event in their way and perform various customs that none of them understands. Gogol's friends on the other hand design and plan the whole event of marriage personally.

The difference between traditional and modern values is also evident in Gogol's divorce from Moushumi. Since Ashima thinks, "Fortunately they have not considered it their duty to stay married, as the Bengalis of Ashoke and Ashima's generation do." [14] In her view, the pressure to settle for less than "their ideal of happiness" has given way to "American common sense." [15] Surprisingly, Ashima is pleased with this outcome, as opposed to an unhappy but dutiful marriage for her son. [16] 

In The Namesake, characters make constant contrasts between India and America, between tradition and modern way of looking at things, and so on. First generation immigrants like Ashoke and Ashima consider American ways as alien and foreign but to accommodate to pleasure of their American born children, adapt to certain occasions like Christmas. Second generation immigrants like Gogol and Moushumi, who are now Indian-American, feel alien in both the countries. They seem misplaced in their parents' homeland as well as the land where they are born and bred.

Gogol faces another cultural shock when he becomes aware of immolation tradition in the treatment of dead bodies. It becomes haunting for him to think that unlike his American tradition of burying the bodies in grave, his body will be burnt after death.

Estrangement and alienation:

The theme of alienation, of being isolated in a distant land, is dominant in the whole novel. During her period of first pregnancy, Ashima was anxious to raise the child in a foreign land, " a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare." [17] This alienation is mainly due to her inner conflict of fast and modern life of US and her traditional simple life back at home. At child's birth, she feels alone and helpless and considers his birth, It is unlike the customary gathering of whole bunch of people around the lady and child, back at home in India. For that after coming back from hospital, Ashima says to her husband, "I don't want to raise Gogol alone in this country. It's not right. I want to go back." [18] 

Ashima feels isolated in the foreign land; she compares this life with "a sort of lifelong pregnancy," [19] for it is ""a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts... something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect." [20] These things are a reason of inner battle between old and new way of living that she experienced simultaneously while at Bengal and US respectively. The theme of alienation is also seen with Gogol when he thinks about his name, "no one he knows in the world, in Russia or India or America or anywhere, shares his name. Not even the source of his namesake." [21] 

Ashima hates being alone at home, which also is a manner of modern life in developed countries like US. While living alone in the house on Pemberton Road, she "feels too old to learn such a skill. She hates returning in the evenings to a dark, empty house, going to sleep on one side of the bed and waking up on another." [22] Similarly when Maxine comes to stay with Gangulis in mourning period of Ashoke; she feels alienated in their crowded house, as Gogol puts it "she feels useless, a bit excluded in this house full of Bengalis." [23] It is the same way as Gogol would feel surrounded by her extended family and friends in the New Hampshire. So the contrasting elements of culture and values affect the both; natives and foreigners.

Moushumi also feels alienation when she rejects all Indian suitors that her parents offered. She always thought she'd be unfit for a particular environment and kind of people. To get rid of this confusing situation, and take a hold of her thoughts she visits Paris.

After her husband's death Ashima feels alienated, she "feels lonely suddenly, horribly, permanently alone, and briefly, turned away from the mirror, she sobs for her husband." [24] 

She senses "both impatience and indifference for all the days she still must live." She goes through a phase of lack of motivation for going to Calcutta with the family she left thirty years before, neither she is interested to spend her old age with her children and grandchildren in US. She is impartial, shattered and overwhelmed for the loss of her husband.

Linguistic Barrier

The language proves to be a hurdle in communication for Ashoke and Ashima when they reach hospital for Gogol's delivery. Ashima looks up for him when Ashoke tells her from behind the curtain that he'll be back, in Bengali, a language that no one understands there except the two of them. The curtain serves as physical barrier, but it symbolizes the unseen wall crated due to speaking a different language in US.

The attitude of American husbands inside the hospital with their wives demonstrates another cultural barrier between India and US. Americans try comforting their wives with warm words, while Ashima is aware that Ashoke is not going to say such words since "this is not how they are."

The linguistic barrier becomes a matter of conflict when Gogol and Sonia become mature. The parents want them to be there at Bengali language and culture classes every fortnight, but it "it never fails to unsettle them that their children sound just like Americans, expertly conversing in a language that still at times confounds them, in accents they are accustomed not to trust." [25] 

When Gogol dates Moushumi, in chapter 8, he speaks to taxi driver in Bengali. Thereof finding pride in his native language at that stage and ultimately reconciling with his childhood experiences with Moushumi.

Name and Identity

Jhumpa belonging to India diaspora reflects her identity conflict through the novel understudy. Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 raised the ban on immigration from Asia, which resulted in intense wave of Asian immigration to the United States. The preliminary groups of immigrants were inexperienced and faced bigotry from American citizens; as a result they preferred to stick to their original Indian culture and values for their new generation. In a way they wanted to 'protect' their children from unprincipled layers of American mainstream culture. [26] 

The subject of name and identity underlies the whole novel but is introduced in the very first chapter when Ashima hesitates to call him by his name, since "it's not the type of thing Bengali wives do." [27] There is a Bengali practice of pet names, or daknam and "good" names, or "bhalonam", is described in chapter 2. Pet name is used by close relatives in the privacy of family, while the "good" name is used officially. A pet name is given to their son by Ashima and Ashoke while "good" name has to arrive from Calcutta from grandmother of Ashima. Here again the traditions of immigrants contradict with those of native inhabitants. Dubey is of the view

For Gogol the anxiety to adjust into two different cultures is all associated with his name; Gogol. Ashoke Ganguly, his father had his particular reason for giving his son this name; that he hardly survived in a train accident while he was reading the work of a Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. He was found lying in rubble and was identified due to the page of book he clutched in his hands.

When Gogol is admitted to Kindergarten, the matter of name and identity again comes to foreground. His parents want him to "Gogol" at home and "Nikhil" in school, but he is confused with the new name; "he is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn't know, who doesn't know him." He anticipates the new name with a new identity in childhood. Gogol is doing well with his name until he visits a cemetery on a class trip at the age of 11; he comes to know that he has a got an exceptional name. "He makes rubbings of the other gravestones with names he has never heard before because he relates to them." [28] Gogol begins hating his name at the age of fourteen. He hates being asked about the extraordinary name he has got. Gogol is unwilling to introduce himself to Kim as "Gogol" at the college get-together; so presents himself as "Nikhil". This increases his self-confidence, and he kisses her; "It hadn't been Gogol who had kissed Kim... Gogol had nothing to do with it." [29] 

In case of Ashima stating Ashoke's name in his being there; she never utters his name. Though she is seen signing his name on Christmas cards, but she never speaks it up. This creates a gap between the two; Ashoke's name and his identity in the eyes of his wife. Ashima talks about him to his friends after Ashoke's death; but still she never says his name. She might not get that his identity is linked to his name.

Moushumi recognizes Gogol as "Gogol," and is shocked to hear him say "Nikhil" as his name at the bar. Since this is "the first time he's been out with a woman who'd once known him by that other name," [30] it creates a sense of ease between them. Though she calls him "Nikhil" like all others, but his old name becomes and underlying secret between the two.

Moushumi and Gogol have a lot to share about their Bengali identity and assumptions it created among Americans. "They talk about how they are both routinely assumed to be Greek, Egyptian, Mexican - even in this mis-rendering they are joined." [31] Neither of the two thought about having a Bengali life-partner since this was both of their parents' heartiest desire. Both of them never wanted to see their parents' wish coming true in that way.

The Name Sake sheds light upon the dilemma of Indian Immigrants in the United States prior to September 11, 2001 attacks on Twin Towers in New York. The dilemma revolves around various parameters ranging from identity crisis to feelings of alienation. The next chapter deals with the analysis of the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist which is set in both pre and post 9/11 scenario and discusses the parameters to present the clash of modern versus traditional culture in United States among Pakistani Muslims.

Chapter 4

Conflict of Modern vs. Traditional Culture in The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Conflict is a major part of human culture. Culture is comprised of various components ranging from code of dressing, use of common language, to mutual concept of belonging to a country. It is not that in a country, people follow same culture, but there is one dominant culture that becomes the hallmark of their identity. If the immigrant belongs to a culturally dominant group in his mother country then he/she feels it difficult to adapt to a new society where he is not given the privilege and preference. The conflict arises when he fails to accept the cultural dominance of the host society and when his culture is targeted and labeled as traditional in terms of being conservative. This chapter deals with the analysis of such conflicts through the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Mohsin Hamid narrates the story of a Pakistani student who goes to United States on a scholarship. Even when he takes every possible step of assimilating into the host society, his culture and identity is labeled as conservative and after 9/11 he suffers from racial profiling, bigotry, verbal abuse and discrimination. The cultural conflict between the immigrant's mother country and host society arises on various levels. The aim of this chapter is to bring into the limelight why such conflicts arise and in what respect Mohsin Hamid defines traditional and modern culture.


Language and culture are interdependent on one another. Language is a medium through which culture is represented or in other words culture is embedded in language.

In the novel under study, the protagonist Changez come across a conflict regarding the choice of language. Though he feels pride in his national language Urdu, yet the host society and its advancements compels him to label his own language as traditional rather than modern.

Changez is suspended between English and Urdu. He is not able to decide which language has more prestige for him. It is his need to speak in English in America for the purpose of communication, but at Manila, when he sees the advancement in the country, he feels Pakistan is far behind even if compared to Manila, what to talk of the USA. So he deliberately chooses to speak English in an American accent, so as to be accepted by locals as an American rather than an Asian or more precisely as a Pakistani.

Apparently he is observing English accent in his speech and trying to show his being 'American' but his innate desire is the recognition of his native language by his mate Erica.

He is unconsciously comparing Urdu with English. This shows his dilemma regarding

Cultural Relativity:

Cultural relativity is a term frequently referred to in cultural anthropology. It observes being good or bad, right or wrong, are the terms dependent on culture. A certain moral practice would face different levels of acceptance in two distinct cultures. [32] 

Social approval in a given culture describes a certain phenomenon as good or bad in "Cultural relativism". Infanticide, for instance, isn't good or bad objectively; rather it's good in a society that approves of it but bad in one that disapproves of it.

Morality is seen by cultural relativists as a product of culture. They assert that all societies have their distinctive ideas about morality; differences exist widely and there is no clear way to resolve them. They determine that there are no objective values. Cultural relativists view themselves as tolerant; they see other cultures, not as "wrong," but as "different." [33] Similarly, Changez censors mentioning about his relationship with Erica while in conversation with his parents when his visits them in Pakistan. Why he does is? The primal reason is that his parents would not approve off the concept of having girlfriend as according to Changez they are more traditional.

The cultural conflict also arises due to cultural relativism when Changez chooses to have beard after the incident of September 11, 2001. His mother advises him to shave his beard because she could sense the bigotry that Changez would have to go through in future.

When Changez comes back to Unites States, he become subject of verbal abuse as American starts viewing people with beard as the allies of Al-Qaeda. Changez consider beard to be cultural symbol but that very symbol is viewed by host society as the mark of terrorists.


The term "ethnicity" is derived from 'ethnic' which has been in use since the Middle Ages. The roots of 'ethnic' have been traced back to Greece and the term ethnos, which used to mean tribe, race, a people or a band. In the present day colonial and immigrant diaspora, the term 'ethnic' is used in contrast of "Us" and "Them." The "Us" stand for majority and non-ethnics, and "Them" for new immigrants, minority or ethnics. Ethnic identity, ethnic origin, ethnocentrism and ethnicism are expressions derived from the term. Ethnic identity or origin refers to a person's inherited legacy. Ethnocentrism is a belief that someone's cultural lineage is loftier than all others, that would consequently create distaste or hatred of any material, behavior or physical features different than his own. Ethnicism is defined as a " movement of protest and resistance on behalf of [ethnics] against oppressive and exploitative outsiders" [34] 

In case of Changez, the post 9/11 scenario compels him to think about the ethnicity which he wants to retain. After being verbally abused on several occasions, he starts identifying himself with his original roots as he believes that his ethnic identity has become a victim of ethnocentrism in the hands of Americans who considers his culture to be inferior.

Being the victim of ethnocentrism, he later turns towards ethnicism and starts channelizing his views regarding United States' policies towards Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Apparel and Cuisine:

Changez is torn between the two cultures i.e., Pakistani and American as at one point in time he wears traditional dress on a party but on other side, he is habit of drinking alcohol.

Inner conflict: assuming to be modern

Changez himself comes to a revelation that he himself has become a modern day janissary. A history is in some way repeating the patterns but now Muslims have become the victims.

Tracing back to the Ottoman Empire; the sultans created two eminent institutions, the military unification of the Janissaries and the civil service. Ottoman leaders were the ones who practically use these institutions in Anatolia by engaging jailbirds as mercenary troops. The male offspring of Christians were taken as slaves.

The remarks of Changez's client make him to ponder upon his loyalties. He comes to the conclusion that he himself has become American janissary and is taking part is war on terror to kill his own people.

When he resigns from his job, he does realize the emotions of sadness growing in him. But these emotions are outlived by the pride that he has had for his own people and country.

Discrimination against Foreigners

Muslims in United States are facing discrimination at work places as people accuse them of being terrorists in cynic manner especially after September 11 incident . The pressure also increases when they have to change their apparel to meet societal demands and make them less prominent; moreover religious obligation like prayers etc. are also becoming a source of tension for people.

Source of data:

The New York City Commission on Human Rights published a report Discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in New York City since 9/11 in 2003. According to the survey conducted by the commission 69 percent of the respondents said that they suffered from discriminatory behavior while 31 percent of the respondents gave opposite views and said that they did not became the subject of any kind of discrimination.

Source of data:

In the same report, respondents were asked about the type of discrimination that they went through. About eleven percent of the respondents were of the view that they suffered from bigotry related to housing. Twenty five percent of the respondent said that they suffered from discrimination on public accommodation. Similarly thirty eight percent said that the discrimination was biased related and twenty six present said that they became subject of discrimination on employment.

Source of data:

The report Discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians in New York City since 9/11 also gives the data regarding the number of people affected by 9/11 incident. The report says that seventy nine percent of the respondents in the survey said that they were affected by 9/11 incident on some level whereas eighteen percent gave response in negative and said that they did not face any kind of discrimination. About three percent respondent gave neutral answer.

In the case of Changez, the protagonist of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, became subject to discrimination on public accommodation, and on work place. For that particular reason, he resigns from his job

It was unable for him to decipher why he has become subject to bigotry. Though he is taking every possible measure to assimilate in to American society, it is rejecting him. It appear as if Americans who consider themselves to be modern have become conservative on the issue of national sovereignty

Sitting with an anonymous listener in Pakistan, Changez is of the opinion that he hates only the policies of America towards his region but not the people nor the country of United States as a whole.

Chapter 5

Comparative Analysis of The Namesake and

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The present chapter deals with pointing out the similarities in the presentation of modern versus traditional cultures in the United States by both the novelists; Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid. Though the novel The Namesake is set in twentieth century as well as in the twenty first century but it does not include the time span of post 9/11, still it reflects the trauma of the immigrants in the United States when it comes to cultural assimilation. The novelist Jhumpa Lahiri formulates her argument of cultural clash through the story of Gangulis' family whose roots lie in Indian Bengal. Similarly, Mohsin Hamid in his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist discusses the protagonist Changez's situation prior to 9/11 but unlike the former novel, it also includes the time span after 9/11 incident. Hamid shows the dilemma of Pakistani Muslims in the United States of cultural assimilation and the difficulties that lie in adopting the American culture.

In order to scrutinize the similarities in the handing of cultural issues, several parameters are drawn in the following table. The table 1.1 reflects the identity crisis and assimilation issue in both the novels. The table 1.2 deals with comparative analysis on language and apparel. Table 1.3 shows the comparison between the novels when it comes to the question of religion, discrimination, verbal abuse and alienation. Table 1.4 and 1.5 points out the comparison on clash of ideologies, cuisine, racial profiling and customs.

Table 1.1

The Namesake pre 9/11 scenario

The Reluctant Fundamentalist pre 9/11 scenario post 9/11 scenario

Identity crisis

Gogol also comes across identity conflict. But later, he realizes his true identity by practicing Bengali culture and stays in America.

Changez at various occasions questions his identity.

Changez suffers from identity crisis after 9/11 where he realizes that he can no longer maintain American and Pakistani identity at the same time and returns back to his native region.


Genguli's family is in constant rift with the assimilation issue in US. Gogol's parents kept themselves away from assimilating into new culture but Gogol himself tries to do so.

Changez tries his level best to assimilate into new culture.

9/11 incident crushes all efforts of Changez to be labeled as American.

The Namesake pre 9/11 scenario

The Reluctant Fundamentalist pre 9/11 scenario post 9/11 scenario


Language becomes a barrier in case of Ganguli and his wife as no one understands Bengali in American hospital.

Changez is confused in taking decision that which language has more prestige for him i.e., English or Urdu.

Changez takes pride in his national language; Urdu.


Gogol while assimilating into the land of his dreams, America, he wears American styled clothes. On the other hand when he visits India, he wears Indian clothes. This means that he has not abandoned both the identities.

Changez wears American clothes but at one point he feels more comfortable in his traditional cum Pakistani kurta.

The author does not comment upon whether 9/11 incident had influenced Changez views about American way of dressing. But his dressing style in Pakistan portrays bend towards Pakistani culture.

Table 1.2

Table 1.3

The Namesake pre 9/11 scenario

The Reluctant Fundamentalist pre 9/11 scenario post 9/11 scenario


He though initially rejects his religion but then turns towards it.

Changez is least bothered about his religion in America.

He grows a beard after 9/11 but not as religious symbol.


The clash of modern verses traditional culture leads to alienation in United States for Mr. and Mrs. Ganguly.

He doesn't feel alienation in his adapted country.

He feels strongly rejected by his host country. This leads to isolation.


Ganguly's family on various occasions is discriminated.

Changez is merely discriminated.

Changez becomes victim of discrimination after 9/11.

Verbal abuse

Gogol is not verbally abused, but his American friends make fun of his name.

He is not verbally abused.

He is verbally abused after 9/11 incident.

Table 1.4

The Namesake pre 9/11 scenario

The Reluctant Fundamentalist pre 9/11 scenario post 9/11 scenario


Gogol and his sister Sonia are also confused regarding the custom i.e., whether to follow Bengali rituals or American.

Changez is confused regarding which customs to follow either Pakistani or American. But he is practicing both of them.

He though abandons America but still he feels sympathetic towards common Americans.

Clash of ideologies

Clash of ideology is visible on cultural level and also when it comes to use of language.

The clash of ideology existed between Changez and his parents but not on political level.

Changez starts to doubt American's efforts on War on Terror. He starts openly criticizes American policies towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Namesake pre 9/11 scenario

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

pre 9/11 scenario post 9/11 scenario

Racial profiling

No racial profiling.

No racial profiling prior to 9/11.

Changez becomes victim of racial profiling after 9/11


Gogol's family resist American cuisine and usually are shown eating in traditional Bengali thali.

Changez drinks alcohol which is prohibited in Pakistani culture and Islam, but he follows American culture.

He starts appreciating his national cuisine in front of American listener.

Table 1.5



The two novels The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Namesake successfully contribute to the issue of cultural diversity and clash of cultures among immigrants. The various challenges immigrants come across create hurdles in their settling. The cultural clash carries in it various types of issues like assimilation problems, religious discrimination, apparel, alienation and abuse, identity crisis, language, cuisine and customs.

The immigrants' dilemma regarding assimilation in the host country as presented in the two novels is such that Ganguly's family fail to assimilate into the new culture as is observed in The Namesake; the parents always cling to their native values and traditions but the case is opposite at first in their off springs but they as well revert to their parents' values by the end of the novel. Same transition we observe in The Reluctant Fundamentalist : Changez at first is inspired to assimilate into the US culture but later after observing biased attitude of Americans towards himself and his religion after the incident of 9/11, he fails to do so.

The language is yet another feature of cultural conflict in the two novels. The parents in The Namesake always prefer to speak their own mother tongue that is Bengali, even when they are aware that no one is going to understand them; but Changez would prefer to speak English language at first but reverts to Urdu after observing bigotry from Americans.

The conflict regarding the cuisine in both the novels reflects the cultural clash between America vs. India, and America vs. Pakistan. The protagonist family in The Name Sake constantly wants to preserve the food culture of India in United States, whereas in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the protagonist Changez is confused regarding the choice in cuisine, he drinks alcohol which is prohibited according to his religion Islam. But he does not mention that in front of his parents because his parents might not accept his behavior of drinking.

When it comes to the dress code, Changez though dresses according to American culture but when he grows beard, he becomes subject to discrimination. He is unable to understand why his culture is looked down upon and why he is been suspected of being with the terrorists. On the other hand, Gogol also dresses according to American culture but his mother retains the cultural pattern of Bengal, India.

The cultural clash is observed in character observing their religion inside America. Gogol does not bother about his religious festivals at first in the novel, but later does. Similar is the case with Changez: he appears to be secular at first but after the incident of September 11, he grows a beard to show adherence to his native culture.

The analysis of cultural conflict in both the novels states that the clash between immigrants' native and host culture is not an anomaly that emerged in the wake of September 11 attacks but is the continuation of history. It also implies that cultural conflicts are not restricted to any particular country or sect.