Describe the character of the Postmaster in Tagore's "The Postmaster."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "The Postmaster" by Rabindranath Tagore, a young man from the city of Calcutta, India, relocates to a village called Ulapur to assume the position of postmaster. He lives in a thatched shed, and his only companionship is with his servant girl, an orphan named Ratan. After a serious illness, during which Ratan helps nurse him back to health, he decides to resign his job and return to Calcutta. There are several things that are clear about the postmaster's character in this story.

First of all, Tagore explains that the postmaster feels like "a fish out of water in this remote village." He does not find it easy to associate with the men from the nearby indigo factory. As a result, he doesn't have any friends and doesn't have much to do. To alleviate his boredom he attempts to write poetry—at which he is unsuccessful.

The postmaster has a kind heart. He cooks his own meals and shares them with Ratan. In his loneliness and boredom he converses with her and asks her questions about her past. Eventually he decides to teach her to read. Touched by his kindness, she in turn takes care of him when he is ill.

However, despite his kindliness, the postmaster is bound by the traditions in which he has been brought up. That's why he doesn't consider the factory workers "desirable companions for decent folk." It's also the reason why the postmaster doesn't take Ratan's request seriously when she asks to come with him to Calcutta. He and Ratan are from different social classes, and he is unwilling to make the effort needed to go against tradition. So he goes away on his own and consoles himself "with philosophical reflections on the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world," and he leaves Ratan to mourn alone without the consolation of philosophy to help her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The postmaster is a city boy who smokes a pipe, thinks well of himself, and doesn't feel comfortable with the fact that his new position brought him to such a rural location. He's lonely, but he still sees himself as too proper to hang out with the workers from the nearby indigo factory. He's not too proper to befriend a young orphaned girl in his village named Ratan, however. He misses his family in Calcutta dearly and shares their stories with her as they build their friendship.

Eventually he decides that he wants to offer to teach her to read, perhaps as if to fulfill some kind of fatherly role for her—as they both seek the families they feel separate from. Still, for all these gestures, he is still willing to abandon Ratan. She doesn't have a family to return to, but he does, and he is perfectly willing to justify his act of abandoning her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Tagore's short story, the postmaster is very concerned with his own welfare.

The postmaster has been relocated from Calcutta to the small village of Ulapur.  From the start of the narrative, he is restless.  His interactions with Ratan, a village orphan, interrupt his boredom.  Even though he converses with her, he seems to do so to occupy his time.  He teaches her how to read, more as a way to occupy time at a place where he "had nothing to do."  The postmaster fails to understand the emotional connection Ratan develops to him, something that is tightened when she nurses him back to health when he becomes ill due to the rains.

In the meantime, the postmaster's thoughts focus on leaving.  When his leave is granted, he joyfully tells Ratan of his plans.  She asks if she could go with him, and while he does not directly say so, it is clear that he considers it an "absurd idea." As he leaves, the postmaster feels some misgivings about abandoning Ratan. However, he ends up rationalizing these feelings away with "philosophical reflections" about how people are in a state of constant passing.

In terms of his character, the postmaster does not see past his own reality. While he can be seen as self-indulgent, I think that Tagore creates a character who is focused on his own needs.  This is why he cannot understand Ratan's request to go with him.  We get the impression that the postmaster will find success because he will always take care of his needs before anything else. In this way, he is different from Ratan, who wanders around the village in search for her "Dada."  Tagore's postmaster would never experience such hurt or yearning because of his self-interested character.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team