How does the "The Postmaster" leave us with a newfound conception of what it means to be "advanced"?

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The postmaster is an educated, relatively cultured, cosmopolitan individual while Ratan is an illiterate, uncultured, orphan. Although the postmaster considers writing about the joy of nature while running the post office, the narrator informs us that he prefers a paved road to this more rural assignment in Ulapur. There is a correlation between "advanced," financial stability, and urban culture. There is also a correlation between rural life, poverty, and being less advanced.

Therefore, the postmaster represents "advanced" society and Ratan represents something comparatively more primitive. He is able to move to different places and she is not. He is in a higher social class. That, in and of itself, does not mean that higher classes tend to be more progressive and/or of the "advanced" strata of society. But, in this case, that connection is being made: that he is able to advance because of his social standing and she is not. He has had access to education and she has not. So, one comment in this story is that being "advanced" implies, first, the ability to advance. Ratan may want to advance or be "advanced" but she lacks the resources. Recall that until the postmaster offers to teach her, she did not even know how to read.

I finished this story with two senses of "advanced." The first is the ability to advance in society and to literally have the freedom to move to another place. This ability has a precursor: having some financial means. The second notion of "advanced" relates to progress, culture, and sophistication.

I think it is eventually clear that Tagore is saying that there are benefits to being advanced: being able to read, move about, make money, and have opportunities. It is even more clear that being culturally advanced (in this second sense) does not necessarily make a person more wise, more ethical, or more compassionate. If this was the case, the allegedly more advanced postmaster would have taken Ratan with him or offered her some sort alternative to start a better life. Instead, he literally and figuratively goes with the current: literally with the river, figuratively with the current of his "advanced" society. He simply moves on. Ratan can not. The final paragraph speaks to this.

In a larger context, there are many so called "advanced" societies that still engage in unethical practices, war, and so on. Being "advanced," culturally speaking, does not automatically imply that one is also enlightened.

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For many different reasons, the label of "genius" can apply to Tagore. His work possesses a unique capacity to peer into the life of human suffering. At a time when so much of the nation was caught up in the fervor and passion of the Indian Independence Movement, Tagore once wrote, "Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree." Tagore was insightful in the complexities of human nature. He understood that political and social movements do not guarantee that all human beings will experience happiness. Tagore was ahead of his time in asserting that pain and cruelty cuts across all boundaries, becoming, in a sad sense, the universal quality that we all share.

This perceptive reality is seen in "The Postmaster." The ending in which Ratan and the Postmaster have to separate speaks to Tagore's understanding of modern "progress." The Postmaster is able to rationalize the separation, staring at the water and, in effect, drowning out the pain he has caused another human being at his actions. He is able to take sanctuary in his intellectualism, his sense of progress, and his sense of philosophical rationalization. Ratan has nothing to comfort her. His sense of progress trades off with her sense of happiness. Tagore's story demonstrates how the act of creation for one involves destruction for another.

The psychological dimensions of this condition applies to a social one, as well. The postmaster is able to go back to Calcutta, an urban setting, while Ratan remains in the village. In this statement, Tagore masterfully demonstrates one of the challenges that India still faces. Modernization and advancement is not a statement that applies to everyone. Rather, a division emerges in which the nation is advanced in its urban centers, while its rural and villages are left behind. This gulf was something that Tagore articulates in the story and is still seen today. When the progress and advancement of India is extolled, it usually refers to its urban centers of Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. Many villages in India are still immersed in the condition in which Ratan lives. Tagore speaks to what progress and advancement mean when it only benefits the few. The postmaster is able to experience this, while Ratan is effectively denied it, a paradigm that still resonates in India today. It is Tagore's genius to recognize this in his writing and envision this reality in the India of today.

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