Vancouver Diaries

The Maxine question in The Namesake

So, lots of people have asked this question again and again “Why did Gogol and Maxine break up?”. Most people have vilified Maxine’s character and blamed her for it. As a matter of fact, it was quite opposite.

Here’s my answer that I posted to IMDB:

Unfortunately, most people just seeing the movie comes up with the same conclusion. However, it was entirely opposite. Maxine really loved him and I believe, as per the novel, out of the three women that Gogol got involved with, Maxine was probably the best.

Gogol always struggled with his Indian origin, his own identity and the cultural differences between how his parents were brought up and his American upbringing. He never identified himself with his own Indian parents and embraced a culture, which was so different from that of his parents’. His involvement with Maxine only reaffirmed it. With Maxine, he got well absorbed into their family. As a matter of fact, he started spending a lot of time with Gerald and Lydia (Maxine’s parents) completely brushing off his own parents. The Ratliffs, being unconventional, non-conservative, created an atmosphere where Gogol felt comfortable. During the summer, he went to spend time with them in the country side. IF you read the novel carefully, you would notice that he never gave their phone# to his parents.

In the novel, end of chapter 6, Lahiri aptly tells it all: “… that night, lying in the cabin beside Maxine, he is woken up by the sound of the phone ringing persistently in the main house. He gets out of bed, convinced that its his parents calling to wish him a happy birthday … realizes that the ringing he’s heard had been a dream. He returns to bed, squeezing in beside Maxine’s warm sleeping body and drapes his arm around her narrow waist … then he remembers that his parents can’t possibly reach him: he has not given them the number and the Ratliffs are unlisted. That here, at Maxine’s side, in this cloistered wilderness that he is free.”

When Gogol’s dad dies, for the first time, Gogol realized the barrier that had grown between him and his parents. He realized that he never really tried to understand Ashima or Ashoke. This neglect of his parents caused an intense feeling of guilt in him and mixed with intense trauma and pain of loosing his father, he started to identify Maxine as a cause of all this.

When Maxine meets Gogol at the funeral, she tries to comfort him in her best possible way. She believes that if Gogol could get away from the somber environment, it would make him feel happier. Some people have taken this as Maxine having a lack of feelings and not trying to understand Gogol (primarily because of her American upbringing). This is not true at all. Her thought causes her to propose their getaway plan during the coming Christmas. However, in his mind, Gogol knows that he has pushed himself away from his parents this long, long enough. It was time for him to come home. That’s why in the movie he says “I don’t want to go away”. He also realizes that Maxine probably would never understand him, his Indian half, the way his own parents did. In the novel, Gogol starts spending a lot of time with his mom in the days to come. This sudden change in Gogol’s attitude confuses Maxine as she does not quite realize the reason for this. She somewhat tolerates Gogol for a while. Eventually they begin to fight and Gogol calls off the relationship. A while later, Gogol meets Lydia accidentally and learns that Maxine has got engaged to another man.

Later, Ashima talks Gogol into starting a relationship with Moushumi. Moushumi, being a daughter of Indian Bengali parents and with American/European upbringing appeals to Gogol. But soon, Gogol realizes “perhaps its not enough that we (they) are both Bengalis”. Moushumi’s character is again a different story altogether.

Its unfortunate for both the characters here that this is how things turned up. I do believe that if Maxine could have done anything at this point, it would perhaps have been giving Gogol a little more space and time. Gogol should also have done better if he had explained the situation to her and be frank, the way she had always been. But that never happened. Thus is life anyway …

Some people have vilified Maxine’s character for wearing a black tank-top at Ashoke’s funeral while its Indian (Bengali) custom to wear white. Firstly, this scene never happens in the novel. Secondly, even in the movie, I don’t think anybody cared whether Maxine wore white or black. Customs vary and Maxine could not have known. It was important that she was there for him in his moment of grief and that she came and participated in the Indian funeral ritual. That’s the evidence of right attitude and Maxine had that in plenty.

Hope this helps.

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