What is the story of "Gora" by Rabindranath Tagore?
Gora is a complex epic novel written around the turn of the 20th century by Rabindranath Tagore. It is a love story laced with complex subplots. The characters engage in intricate debates, reflections and arguments.
The ideas that Tagore address are all the issues that were fermenting in India in the late 1800s and early 1900s: the exclusion of women from the main ranks of society and culture; religious rituals and practices that appeared to some as primitive; the caste system; India's place in a political world; religious ideas opposed to Hinduism; Indian identity. The hero is Gora, an energetic Hindu who practices his religion in the highest manner.
He falls in love with Sucharita yet tries to deny his feelings. Her friend Lolita falls in love with Gora's friend, Binoy. When Binoy, who is also a Hindu, renounces Hinduism to become a Brahmos and embrace the new religion of Brahma Samaj, Gora is devastated. Brahmos are opposed to the oppression of India's traditions and religious practices and seek to establish a new India that is embracing of all people equally and liberated as well as liberating for all.
The chronicles of an Irish child growing up in India, “Gora : A Vignette of the Indian Renaissance,” by Rabindranath Tagore has earned the reputation as the greatest novel of modern India. Gora is an Irish child whose mother dies in childbirth and whose father perishes in battle. He is adopted by a Hindu woman who has no children of her own. It is in this orthodox Brahmin family where Gora is raised, and learns Hindu traditions and culture. Although Gora is an Irish child with a white complexion, he believes that he is Brahmin. Through his adopted family he finds himself interacting with a prominent Brahmo family which helps to solidify his belief that modern India can only be saved by returning to its roots in Hinduism. This in opposition to the beliefs of the Brahmo family who reject idolatry and the caste system, but live a life that is able to combine a feeling of love and respect for India with those of universalism.
As he matures, he develops a group of devotees of young Brahmin men who share his beliefs and feel conflicted by modernism and Westernization. As the novel progresses it chronicles the struggles of the educated class of India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Themes that emerge in the book include the life of modern Indian women and children through the character Anandamovi who adopts Gora, and the relationship of Gora with the more liberal Brahma Samaj.
First, it's important to note that the word "gora" means "fair-skinned." That being said, the story is set within the Indian society of the Bengali at a time when there was a great dichotomy within. It was basically the orthodox Hindus vs. the progressive Brahmos. Therefore, through the book, Tagore raises all of the pertinent concerns of the society spoken through one or more of his characters. There are so many stories tied within the main plot, it is easy to get lost in the tangents.
Still, Gora is the main character, the protagonist. Gora is one of the Hindus and has a very high regard for his religion. Gora has many leadership qualities and tends to be seen as fairly arrogant (and even violent) as a result. However, Gora is always positive and dreams continually of an India free of deceit and injustice. He develops feelings of love towards Sucharita (one of the heroines, a free-thinking woman) and is upset when his friend Binoy is inclined towards Brahmos instead of Hinduism. Binoy and Lolita are another love story within the novel. Through these experiences and adventures, Gora learns hatred for the caste system and respect for his own mother. Gora also learns to trust Poresh Babu and his grand maturity.
Thus, Tagore implies that women should be treated as equals and that orthodoxy in religion can still be followed in the meantime. What I find interesting is that, within the confines of his novel, Tagore is able to blend the orthodox with the progressive in a non-offensive way. Tagore is certainly an Indian sage of his time.