The Home and the World

by Rabindranath Tagore

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The Home and the World Summary

The Home and the World is a 1916 novel by Rabindranath Tagore about Bimala and Nikhil, a wealthy couple in India at the turn of the twentieth century who deal with the political and cultural changes of the time.

  • Bimala falls prey to the charms of Sandip, a revolutionary proponent of the Swadeshi movement.
  • Sandip moves in with Nikhil and Bimala, even though he disagrees with the more moderate, albeit progressive, views of Nikhil.
  • Bimala comes to recognize Sandip’s manipulative ways and seeks to break from his influence and reconcile with her husband.

Summary

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Last Updated on July 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1312

The Home and the World, by Rabindranath Tagore, takes place in Bengal, India, during the Swadeshi independence movement in the early 1900s. The story alternates among the viewpoints of three different characters, Bimala, Nikhil, and Sandip. Most of the story takes place in Nikhil’s estate, where the married Bimala and Nikhil live with Nikhil’s sister, Bara Rani (Rani).

The story begins with Bimala describing her relationship with Nikhil. She practically worships Nikhil, but she despises her sister-in-law, who often teases and insults her. Nikhil turns a blind eye to his sister’s treatment of Bimala. Rather, Nikhil wishes Bimala would see herself and him as equals and leave the home together occasionally. Nikhil is loosely involved in the Swadeshi movement, often funding various projects to help the local economy. In addition, he funds Sandip Babu, an Indian nationalist speaker whom Bimala suspects of taking advantage of her husband.

Bimala and Nikhil see Sandip speak, and she is deeply moved by his charisma. Sandip stays with Bimala and Nikhil, and during dinner, he and Nikhil argue about the extent to which nationalism will help India. Bimala, in an unusual display of autonomy, sides with Sandip and disagrees with her husband, believing that movements must sometimes be informed by passions rather than temperance. Sandip compliments Bimala throughout the night and believes that she is the embodiment of India. After another argument with a similar outcome, Nikhil feels that he is becoming inadequate for his wife. Nikhil’s former school master and friend, Chandranath, arrives and encourages Nikhil to send Sandip away, but Sandip decides that Nikhil’s estate is the perfect place to do his business. Furthermore, he wants Bimala to be his Shakti, a woman to represent the Indian people.

Sandip considers how he will continue to manipulate and use Bimala, and he regularly meets with her in the sitting room to ask her advice. One day, he is stopped by a guard from entering the sitting room. The guard had been ordered by Rani to keep Sandip from entering. Sandip punches the guard to get through, and Bimala insists that the guard be fired, but Nikhil just assigns him to another part of the estate. Later, Sandip walks in on Bimala reading a book about sexuality, which greatly embarrasses her. He pretends not to notice, but when Nikhil comes into the room, Sandip says that Nikhil needs to read it and further attempts to make Nikhil uncomfortable by suggesting Bimala read it, although this does not upset Nikhil.

Bimala becomes more and more attracted to Sandip. She resolves to give herself over to him, but when they are together, her maid comes into the room, demanding pay and vowing to quit. Rani’s servant had insulted Bimala’s maid. Bimala confronts Rani and is reprimanded, which enrages Bimala beyond words. She goes back to her room where she sees keepsakes that remind her of Nikhil and falls, sobbing. Meanwhile, Sandip is concerned that he is becoming too soft, and he commits to the idea of sexually taking Bimala to assert his dominance.

As the Swadeshi movement gains momentum, the importation of European-made goods comes to be looked down on by the public. Nikhil sees that Bimala is slipping away, and for both their sakes, he believes he needs to free her from himself. He remembers when Panchu, a poor man, came to his house to repay coconuts that he had stolen from the estate years before. While Nikhil’s reaction was to change the system that made Panchu poor in the first place, Bimala’s concern was with their own security and wealth. This memory serves to show how different Bimala and Nikhil are ideologically.

Nationalist students who have returned for the summer and joined Sandip’s cause argue with Nikhil about the foreign goods being sold in his market, but he refuses to place sanctions against his vendors. Meanwhile, Panchu’s wife dies of a disease, and he must purify himself with the Brahmins but does not have the money to do so. He leaves to wander the lands while Chandranath looks after his children. Panchu returns, and Chandranath offers him a loan, but eventually Panchu is evicted and made to burn his possessions for selling found foreign-made goods for extra money. Nikhil offers to buy up some land and let Panchu stay there, but Panchu is concerned there will be more demonstrations against him.

Bimala confronts her husband about the European goods he allows to be sold in his market and asks him to establish an embargo, but Nikhil remains steadfast. Sandip begins supporting domestic terrorism, advising Amulya, one of his comrades, to sink the boat of a merchant who is importing foreign goods. He also asks Bimala to secure money for their cause: fifty thousand rupees. He suggests stealing it from her husband’s treasury. Even though he does not need this much, he believes this will give Bimala a sense of purpose, and costs are mounting: he must pay bribe money to the police, and he is further working to suppress the Muslim population. Bimala comes back to him to tell him that she cannot get that much money, and he lowers the sum to five thousand rupees.

Bimala knows that her husband keeps money that is to be donated in Rani’s name in a safe in his room. Bimala steals the key and takes packages of gold worth six thousand rupees to deliver to Sandip. Amulya is there, and she feels disgust at herself and Sandip. Sandip goes to embrace her, but she pushes him into a table, briefly knocking him out. Sandip regains his senses and gathers the money, and Bimala is no longer seduced by him.

In the meantime, news stories are being published against Nikhil. Further, an unknown aunt of Panchu’s comes to claim any inheritance that was rightfully his. This is a sham, but no one is willing to speak on Panchu’s behalf. Chandranath eventually convinces the supposed aunt to leave, but there is still no guarantee that others will not come after Panchu.

Feeling extreme guilt, Bimala attempts to replace the money that she stole. She employs Amulya to sell her jewels and advises him against following Sandip. However, Sandip intercepts Amulya and takes the jewels back, delivering them to Bimala spitefully. Amulya offers Bimala six thousand rupees, as he stole it from a treasury earlier, but he will not tell her how he got it. She insists that he return the money. While he says this is impossible, he promises to make everything right for her and leaves. Sandip attempts again to win Bimala over with words, but she is beyond his control. Nikhil comes to tell him that he must leave, as Nikhil has decided he will be taking Bimala to Calcutta the next day. It is no longer safe for them, as there have been reports of Muslim uprisings.

Bimala makes cakes and feeds the house with them, and Nikhil packs with his sister. An inspector comes with Amulya, who has tried to deposit money back into the treasury. Amulya explains that Bimala’s wish has been fulfilled. Nikhil is afraid to ask about the robbery, as he does not wish to know Bimala’s connection to it. Later, at dinner, Nikhil and Rani ask Bimala if she has seen the safe key. She casually admits that she took the money, and little more is said about the matter. They are preparing to leave, but Chandranath comes to report that a neighbor’s house is under attack by Muslims, who are raping the women. Nikhil goes to help, while Rani and Bimala anxiously await his return. He returns carried in a palanquin with a potentially fatal shot to the head, and Bimala learns that Amulya has been shot in the heart and is dead.

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