In "The Postmaster," what defines power between characters?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The construction of power is evident in the Tagore short story through the idea of being wanted by another.  The more one is wanted, the more power they have.  At the outset, both characters lack power.  The postmaster lacks power because he is away from his native Calcutta, almost cut adrift in the village.  He finds himself unwanted and unecessary in the village, to a great extent. Ratan lacks power because she is an orphan, unwanted and discarded by the social norms.  She is relegated to the margins of society, indicating her lack of power.  The postmaster gains power because Ratan wants him.  This is not entirely sexual or as Tagore would say, "intimate."  Yet, it is out of her desire to serve him and to be with the postmaster that he gains power.  He holds power over her because he would call her inside to help prepare food, to clean, to tend to him and to take care of him when he was sick.  The need of being wanted is satiated in both of them, and is why he holds more power than her.  She is not as needed to him as she needs him.  Ratan's powerless condition leads her to yield an inordinate amount of power to the postmaster, something that she thinks will enable her to share in this power when she asks him to take her back with him to Calcutta.  It is at this point where power is viewed in traditional contexts, as he rejects her.  For a moment, Ratan seeks to assert some power in rejecting his money at the end of the narrative, but loses it when she runs away in tears.  The postmaster is able to possess more power than Ratan as he is able to philosophically justify his leaving her.  This is something that Ratan is unable to do, as the story ends with her wandering around the village waiting for the postmaster's return, the reemergence of her "Dada- babu."

An argument could be made that Tagore's emphasis of Ratan gives her more power than the postmaster.  The ending of the story gives priority to Ratan, something that Tagore does to almost equalize out the power dynamic between them.  The postmaster leaves and with him takes the traditional notion of power.  Yet, in the ending of the story, one in which Ratan's image of waiting in vain for the postmaster is far more poignant and lingering in the mind, there can be more in way of power as the reader identifies in a more intense manner with Ratan than with the postmaster.


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