In The Postmaster, why did the postmaster speak of his family to Ratan?

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Rabindranath Tagore's short story "The Postmaster," the reader is first introduced to the postmaster, and it is clear from the beginning that he is, as the story says, "a fish out of water." The postmaster has been unable to settle comfortably into his surroundings, and there is a cultural difference between this "Calcutta boy" and the local villagers. The village is apparently quite rural, not modern or "macadamized," meaning that that the roads are not tarred. This has been quite an adjustment for the postmaster.

The postmaster enjoys calling out to Ratan, the orphan girl, and he has more in common with her than he realizes. In each other's company they find the closest thing to contentment in such difficult circumstances, and although the postmaster's motives are self-centered, he takes the time to listen to Ratan's stories, relishing the images that she creates. When he feels "lazy" from listening to her stories, this is because he is relaxed. 

Ratan is the person he is able to share his own stories with: stories that make him feel sad, but which are vivid in his mind. Talking to Ratan allows him to reminisce without anyone judging him. Ratan relates to the postmaster's stories of home—stories which bring the postmaster closer to his family, if only in his heart, and which also make Ratan feel like part of his family. When the shared stories are no longer sufficient to sustain him, the postmaster becomes distant; even teaching Ratan the alphabet does not bring him the satisfaction he is searching for.

An important detail that the postmaster overlooks when he makes his plans to return home (and does, in fact, leave without Ratan) is that while he tells his stories so that he can remember a better time in the past, she tells her stories—and becomes part of his—in order to create a brighter future. He has only a momentary "impulse" before continuing on his journey back to everything he loves, whereas she is left with mere memories of a family that can only exist in her imagination.

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

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Tagore's inclusion of the postmaster's sharing of information with Ratan brings out an important emotional dynamic of each character.  On one hand, the postmaster speaks of his family to Ratan to emphasize his own life.  The postmaster is shown as one who is precariously close to self- absorption.  The postmaster reminisces of his family in Calcutta to bring himself back into a world he covets more than Ulapur.  His speaking of his family to Ratan is the mere engagement of someone else into what he perceives to be his own joy, a life far away from what is.  

Yet, this inclusion of conversational material has an intriguing effect on Ratan. She internalizes his family as his own, as a reflection of her absorption into the postmaster.  Whereas the postmaster speaks of his family as his own, desiring for another person to see his happiness, Ratan almost escapes her own condition of misery into this being.  She refers to his mother and sister as her own.  Ratan, the orphan, engages his dialogue in the hopes of being an insider, as opposed to the perpetual outsider that she is.  It is in this where Ratan is seen as much more empathetic a figure than the postmaster.

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