Briefly outlining the story, explain the role of irony in the story "The Lost Jewels."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With irony as the contrast between what is stated and what is meant (verbal irony), or between what is expected and what actually happens (situational irony), there are both instances of irony in "The Lost Jewels."

A story told in the Benghali tradition of philosophy with a certain mysticism and hidden foreshadowing, the unknown narrator, a merchant, relates his encounter with a schoolmaster who moors his boat (ironically, as it turns out) beside "an old bathing ghat of the river... in ruins."

  • Pointing to a ramshackle house, the schoolmaster begins his tale of the misfortune attached to it. He describes the merchant Bhusan who married a beautiful, but selfish woman named Mani. In his weakness, Bhusan spoils her:

She used to get her caresses without asking, her Dacca muslin saris without tears, and her bangles without being able to pride herself on a victory. In this way her woman's nature became atrophied, and with it her love for her husband. She simply accepted things without giving anything in return.

  • Throughout the story, the schoolmaster alludes to the weakness of the merchant who is foolish in his thinking that "to give is the way to get" because man must retain some of his barbarism in order to keep his wife eager for his love.
  • Without warning Bhusan's business reaches a point where he cannot get credit. ┬áSince allowing his creditors to know that he must borrow will bring ruin, he asks his wife if he can use some of her jewels as collateral for a loan,but he cannot say, "Look here, I am in need of money; bring out your jewels";instead he broaches the subject delicately, and Mani looks cruelly at him, saying nothing.
  • Too "proud" to touch his wife's jewels, Bhusan goes to Calcutta in an attempt to find some money.
  • While he is gone, Mani calls a cousin of hers, who advises her that her husband will not procure the money and will be forced to take her jewels. So, Mani decides to leave, wearing all her precious jewelry as she does not trust this cousin, Modhu.
  • An old steward writes to Bhusan, informing him of what has happened. Still, he does not become angry; he is only "distressed." When he returns home, hoping that once Mani has hidden her jewels she will also return. The steward tells him he should learn where his mistress is, so inquiries are made, but Mani and Modhu are nowhere to be found.
  • With all hope exhausted, Bhusan enters his deserted bedroom, taking no notice of the damp wind and pouring rain. He looks at all Mani's things, hoping that she will return for them, at least. For hours, he remains in the room.
  • His stupor shaken, he hears jingling that seems to come from the steps of the ghat. He runs to the door, but it has been bolted from the outside by the porter. Bhusan shakes the door so hard, that he is awakened from this dream and realizes "This world is vain." Yet on another night, this dream is repeated, and Bhusan "struck his forehead in despair."
  • Because he cannot stand the separation from Mani, Bhusan wants to die. Again he dreams, but this time there is a skeleton that beckons him and leads him to the ghat. As they descend into the water, Bhusan awakens, but he is unable to save himself from drowning.
  • The narrator asks if his listener believes the tale. "No," the man replies," name happens to be Bhusan Saha." Then, the schoolmaster asks what his wife's name was. "Nitya Kali" the man answers.

This surprise ending is an example of irony of situation. Bhusan's reply to "What was your wife's name?" is verbal irony.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rabindranath Tagore's short story "The Lost Jewels" is told through a dialogue between the main character and an old schoolmaster whom he happened to stumble upon. He was visiting what 15 years prior was his own estate, which now lays in ruin just as he, Bhusan, lays in anonymity. The man who was speaking to him was basically telling the story of the ruin of the said Bhusan Saha; on how his biggest weakness seems to have been the love that he had for his wife. A love so strong that it rendered Bhusan weak, mistakenly assuming that the only way to possess his wife completely is to give in to her every whim, particularly every material desire that she wishes. However, this is the Asian culture and the role of men and women change considerably from those roles practices in the Western world. In a way, the schoolmaster blames Bhusan for having lost his wife's love. is hardly necessary to tell you that the ordinary female is fond of sour green mangoes, hot chillies, and a stern husband. A man need not necessarily be ugly or poor to be cheated of his wife's love; but he is sure to lose it if he is too gentle.

The problem with the jewels is that they were the primary object of desire of Bhusan's wife, Mani. It replaced anything that Bhusan and Mani could have had in common; the want for children, their mutual trust, their mutual desire...all that the wife felt for Bhusan was the same emotion one feels when one has hit a lottery that keeps on giving.

More ironic still is that, after Bhusan's fall from grace, the jewels began to represent the last vestige of his lifeline: the only thing that could potentially bring back what once was. Still, the irony comes when his wife is willing to die with her jewels rather than give them to her husband to recuperate his loses. She goes as far as escaping with an opportunistic cousin to her father's house to keep the jewels preserved. This adds to the humiliation and desperation of the situation. It shows that Bhusan has lost every control of his wife, and his life in general. The saddest part is that the wife, nor her cousin, are ever found again. We are unsure if they drowned in the river, or if they escaped together. Yet, this goes to show that the value placed upon material objects was never worth the salt of the marriage, nor did it ever get to demonstrate anything:

The unfortunate Bhusan had been turned out of the machine of modern civilization an absolutely faultless man. He was therefore neither successful in business nor in his own home.

The irony also comes from the fact that the schoolmaster insists in that being good and kind is what leads to problems; that it denotes weakness and that being incorruptible is actually a bad thing.

Man is the rod of God's justice, to him has been entrusted the thunderbolt of the divine wrath, and if at wrong done to himself or another it does not at once break out into fury, then it is a shame. God has so arranged it that man, for the most trifling reason, will burst forth in anger like a forest fire, and woman will burst into tears like a rain-cloud for no reason at all. But the cycle seems to have changed, and this appears no longer to hold good.

The fact that the roles are interchanged, and that the role of the good husband and provider is seen as a sign of weakness, are some of the biggest ironies seen in the story "The Lost Jewels".