The Home and the World Summary
by Rabindranath Tagore

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The Home and the World Summary

Rabindranath Tagore's novel The Home and the World (1916) is set in India during the early twentieth century, a time when England still held power over the country. Tagore writes each chapter from the perspective of either Nikhil, Bimala, or Sandip to reflect the political turmoil and lack of unity in India at the time the novel is set.

Bimala is an obedient, devoted wife to Nikhil, and she is satisfied with her role. However, Nikhil is influenced by Enlightenment ideals, and he wishes for Bimala to explore her own desires and have a life outside of their home. To encourage this, he takes her to a rally held by members of the Swadeshi movement. At the rally, Nikhil introduces her to Sandip, a radical leader.

Sandip's passion and oration convinces Bimala to join the movement, but she also begins to develop romantic feelings for him. These feelings, as well as Nikhil's hesitation to fully join the Swadeshi movement, cause her to question her devotion.

Wanting to be close to him, Bimala invites Sandip to visit Nikhil's estate. Sandip declares that he will use Nikhil's estate as a headquarters for the movement. During his visit, her feelings intensify, and Bimala begins to pull away from Nikhil. When Sandip asks Bimala to steal from Nikhil's safe, she does, but she is overcome with guilt.

She confesses to Nikhil and promises to repay him by selling her jewels. Nikhil is hurt, but he forgives Bimala and encourages her to follow her own path, even if it means ending their marriage. This gesture reassures Bimala that Nikhil is her true love. Bimala's devotion to Nikhil is renewed after his actions during a riot in Bengal. He bravely fights to push the Swadeshi movement forward and tries to stop the violence while Sandip hides in fear.

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Home and the World is set during the height of the Swadeshi movement, a boycott of British goods that was initiated in 1905 as a protest against Great Britain’s arbitrary division of Bengal into two parts. At first, Tagore was one of the leaders of Swadeshi, but when protests evolved into violent conflicts between Muslims and Hindus, Tagore left the movement. In The Home and the World, he explained why he did not approve of what Swadeshi had become.

The novel consists of twenty-three chapters, each of them a first-person narrative by one of the three major characters. The first and the last chapters are both labeled “Bimala’s Story,” thus emphasizing the fact that the young wife Bimala is the pivotal character in what is superficially a love triangle but, more profoundly, is a conflict between two points of view, one good, the other evil. The other two narrators are Nikhil, Bimala’s husband, a wealthy landowner with Enlightenment views and a benevolent nature, and Sandip, a charismatic but completely unscrupulous Swadeshi leader.

Although for some time her husband has urged Bimala to move out into the world, it is not until she meets the charismatic Sandip that she decides to take advantage of the freedom Nikhil has offered her. The first time Sandip comes to dinner, he urges her to remain with the men and take part in the discussion. Nikhil feels that he must invite Sandip to be his guest while he is in the area, but a few days stretch into weeks, and Sandip is still present. Although he admits to the reader that he believes strong men have the right to take whatever they want, he conceals his ruthlessness from Bimala. Instead, he flatters her, calling her the “mother” of the Swadeshi movement, or the “Queen Bee.” Though Nikhil’s old master, who is visiting, urges him to get rid of Sandip, Nikhil knows that Bimala would not permit him to evict the agitator. However, when he learns that the Muslims are planning to attack his home in...

(The entire section is 952 words.)