Explain the statement below with reference to the character of the postmaster in Tagore's "The Postmaster."'He reflected philosophically that in life there are many separations, many deaths.'

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

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This is a great moment in Tagore's short story.  In its conclusion, the orphan Ratan, who had found some semblance of stability and normalcy with serving the postmaster, asks to accompany him in his departure.  He laughs at her.  When he leaves, he offers her money, but she runs away, partly in sadness, partly out of her own condition of being abandoned again.  The postmaster leaves and as he does, he thinks about what he has done.

Essentially, the postmaster has broken another person's heart.  As the French theorist Benjamin Constant once said, " No meta-physician has ever been able to justify the breaking of another's heart."  The postmaster is left to reflect about the pain he inflicted on Ratan.  He is overcome with a sense of sadness, something that Tagore suggests is felt within the constructs of the earth, a feeling emanating from the center of the universe.  This overwhelms him and subsumes him.  Yet, the catch, and where Tagore is simply brilliant is that he constructs the postmaster to be consistently self- absorbed.  The postmaster begins to rationalize that there is suffering everywhere, and that people feel pain all over.  For the postmaster, there are so many instances of separation, loneliness, death, and pain that what the postmaster did to Ratan is simply one more instance. It does not change anything, as there will still be pain with or without the postmaster's contribution.  In the end, "there are many separations, many deaths." This allows the postmaster to feel better about what he has done.

Tagore's inclusion of this line about there is a philosophical approach to avoiding taking responsibility for the causing of one's pain is simply brilliant.  It allows the viewer to see the true and self- absorbed nature of the postmaster for if he really felt bad, he could have reversed course and taken her.  He didn't.  He looked for a reason to escape his own sense of budding guilt and was able to find it in a philosophical justification that asserted there was so much suffering and pain in the world and his own inclusion would have made no difference.  Tagore rightfully though points out that "Ratan had no such consolations" to alleviate her own pain, which is why she becomes the heroine of the story.

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