For Gogol, these obligations take the form of Bengali traditions. The traditions do not, perhaps, mean so much to him in themselves—it is not that, overnight, Gogol becomes an observant and faithful practitioner of Bengali religious rites. But the ceremonial aspects of his father’s mourning period are important to him. They remind him of the family gatherings the Gangulis have held in the past, and of the links his family shares with other families in the area, and with their blood relations in Calcutta. Ashoke’s passing thus has the effect of binding Gogol more closely with the surviving members of his immediate family.
This binding, however, leaves Maxine out. She tries quite hard to remain close to Gogol and to respect his family’s traditions. Although Maxine does not always understand the ceremonies in which Gogol and his family takes part, she does her best to talk to Gogol in his grief, and to look out for his wellbeing as she might imagine her own, in similar circumstances. But this is precisely the problem. For Gogol realizes that the Ratliffs are fundamentally a different family from the Gangulis. They observe different social codes, different traditions. And for Gogol, mourning is not something to be done alone, in comfort. It is instead a public act of grieving, done close to one’s blood relations. Maxine, despite knowing Gogol well and loving him, is not one of those blood relations.
Some of the simplest acts, following Ashoke’s death, take on symbolic significance for Gogol and the family. He does not travel to Ohio simply because it is his duty, as Ashoke’s only son; he does so because he wants to feel close to his father, to learn more about his solitary life there. Gogol realizes, only after his father is gone, how little of his father he knew, or what his father chose to reveal to him over time. Ashoke is a private character, but an emotional one; a man of feelings who nevertheless did not share those feelings directly with his own family members. Gogol is not entirely dissimilar to his father, in this way. He can be emotionally distant, especially with Maxine, and especially as he is going through mourning. Gogol wants to learn the details of his father’s life in Ohio as a way of better understanding the man himself.
Many of the novel’s broader themes return in this chapter, and take on new meanings. The cycle of birth and death turns once again. Ashoke passes on, just as his father and Ashima’s father did. And we see these deaths not through the original, “immigrant” generation’s eyes, but through Gogol’s—those of a young man who has assimilated into American society, who is pursuing his own professional path in New York City. The notion of “in-groups” and “out-groups” also returns. For Maxine, despite her best efforts, cannot know a part of Gogol’s world, especially the part that becomes present during periods of mourning—a complex set of social rituals to be observed by direct family members only.
Finally, the idea of solitude and human bonds reemerges. Ashima, perhaps more than her husband, has felt cut off from family in Calcutta, after the move to the United States. But here, during Ashoke’s funeral services, Ashima, Sonia, and Gogol are surrounded by a surrogate family of Bengalis, many of whom have known Ashoke for years. This surrogate family helps Ashima to transition to a new life, without Ashoke by her side. As Ashima has noted, this transition was already in place after Ashoke’s move to Cleveland, which was to be only temporary, but which became permanent after his death.