An Overcoat for the Self

Considering the importance of The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol to the writing of The Namesake by Juhmpa Lahiri, I believe it is possible to draw a line connecting the main characters of both books, and their overcoats.

Nikhil becoming Gogol after his father’s death

For Gogol (The Namesake), his overcoat is not literally an overcoat, but his changed name, Nikhil. An overcoat is used to cover, in this sense Gogol is covering up the truth of his real name because he is too embarrassed by it.

In The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol, Akaky (the main character) acquires a new overcoat, and with it becomes someone new. He pretends to be someone he is not until that overcoat is lost and he returns to his original status.

(Go to 3:30 if you want to see Akaky and his overcoat)

Similarily, despite the acquisition of his overcoat, Gogol (The Namesake) still remains Gogol to his parents. When his father dies, he returns home and sheds his overcoat, becoming Gogol, rather than Nikhil, once again.

Personally I believe in both cases the the overcoat represents the defiance of fate. It represents the will to go past what has been predetermined for you. However, it appears that fate, in the end, is inescapable in both cases.

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The Matrix of your Personality

What creates the self???

The Matrix (which my English class is currently watching) proposes multiple different philosophical theories, one of which is quite interests me.

All the characters in The Matrix live in two separate worlds: the Matrix world, and the real world. Up until the point where they are disconnected from the Matrix, all things that have shaped their virtual identity have been digitally constructed. Once disconnected, it seems as though their virtual personalities carry over into the real world.

Mouse, a character from the movie, illustrated a similar idea when talking about Tasty Wheat :

“You have to wonder: how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything.”

The reason for Mouse’s confusion is that he’s eaten Tasty Wheat, but he hasn’t actually eaten tasty wheat. In The Matrix, personalities are developed and brought into the real world. However, does this mean that these people don’t actually have developed personalities ?

What is it that truly creates your self ?

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A Whole New Light

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I wanted to bring to light an idea that I had while reading through the first couple chapters in the Namesake. My idea is simply this: Someone’s relationship with an object of significance will greatly affect the significance of that object in their lives.

In Jumpha Lahiri’s The Namesake, Ashoke is ‘saved’ because rescue workers during a train crash noticed pages of The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol near his body. This event in his life shapes the events of the book as Ashoke believes it was Gogol who had saved his life. This is the reason in which he names his son ‘Gogol’. In this case, the name ‘Gogol’ was so important in Ashoke’s life that he named his son after him, against Bengali culture. 

My theory behind why this significant attachment occurs lies within the traditional value of objects or regular everyday things. Originally, if someone held up a man and asked him to give him all of his valuables, he would quickly do so without though as the value of life is greater than that of the objects he owns. However, once an object has saved a life, it becomes almost as valuable as a human life. It, in essence, granted a human life to live on. As such, the human would grow a strong emotional bond with that object, and it would be a source of inspiration in his/her life.

Near death experiences are something frequently discussed on the internet. To give a vague example, someone may say “[Blank] saved my life!”. Recently, I read a post about how a Dutch man’s Iphone saved his life from a bullet. (http://www.mactrast.com/2012/02/iphone-stops-a-speeding-bullet-saves-owners-life/)

“The victim was in his van when several unknown individuals approached and opened fire. Five bullets were fired, one of which hit the man’s chest. Fortunately, the man’s iPhone was in his                                             shirt pocket. The bullet shattered the iPhone’s glass, but prevented the wound from causing any major injury to the man.”

Can you imagine that? If this happened to me, I wouldn’t care that the Iphone broke, instead I would simply see the Iphone in a whole new way. It would have a special significance to me, and I would likely grow more attached to it than any other phone or material object. It is no surprise, then, that the dutch man decides to stick his Iphone in a special place in his home to remind him of the fragility of life.

The action of putting the Iphone in a special place as well as Ashoke’s naming of his son after his ‘hero’ shows the significance of something in ones life relative with their relationship with that thing. Why didn’t the man put his Iphone in a special place before he almost got killed? Would Gogol have been named Gogol if the train crash had never occurred? The answer is no. An object requires emotional significance before it can become important. Once it acquire’s the value of human life, it will shape it’s owner’s life just as other humans have the ability to influence other people’s everyday lives.

“It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.” – T.S. Eliot

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