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The novel is set in early 20th century India in the estate of the Bengali zamindar Nikhil. He marries Bimala, a woman who is both of a lower status and of a darker complexion, which is contradictory to his family traditions. Their love is idyllic and both are dedicated to one another until the appearance of his friend and radical revolutionist, Sandip. Sandip, a passionate and active man, is a contradiction to the peace-loving and somewhat passive Nikhil. His charismatic speech, support of the Swadeshi movement, and a renewed appreciation of everything Indian while denying everything British garnered support from local natives across the province. After hearing Sandip speak at a rally, Bimala insists that Sandip visit Nikhil’s estate. While visiting, Sandip's influential nature easily attracts the innocent and unsuspecting Bimala, and she suggests he make his headquarters at their house. Once empowered by the inside world, knowing only her husband and home, she becomes engaged with the outside world, taking part in the Swadeshi movement by working with Sandip. As the novel develops, Bimala is drawn to Sandip’s passion and the attraction between the two becomes inevitable, producing a love triangle. She begins to question her marriage with Nikhil and finds in Sandip what she has always sought after in a man: zeal, ambition, and a hint of danger. She begins to help Sandip by stealing money from Nikhil’s treasury, convinced that if it is not equally his money as well as hers, then it belongs to the country. While Bimala claims her national duty as motivation, her true intentions lie in pleasing Sandip. Nikhil subsequently discovers their actions, but grants Bimala freedom to grow and choose what she wants in her life (as their marriage was arranged when she was a young girl). Meanwhile, Bimala experiences love for the first time, which ultimately helps her understand that it is indeed her husband Nikhil who really loves her. The novel ends with a riot, resulting in Sandip fleeing the city. Nikhil is mortally wounded in the head. Amulya, a young follower of Sandip's movement who considered Bimala as his sister, and whom Bimala thinks of as her son (since she has no children), dies by a bullet through his heart.
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