Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In this novel based in India during the 20th Century, the main characters are involved in their own personal struggles and beliefs about nationalism, traditionalism, and modernism in relation to the National Independence Movement in India. The three main characters Nikhil, Bimala, and Sandip, are intertwined in their relationships, as love and devotion are tested.
One quote representing the commitment of Sandip and others to nationalism and even revolution is the following:
When at last we have to die it will be time enough to get cold.
While we are on fire let us seethe and boil.
The next quote reflects a view for more progress in India:
Where its threat is confined to those who would hurt or plunder, there the Government may claim to have freed man from the violence of man. But if fear is to regulate how people are to dress, where they shall trade, or what they must eat, then is man's freedom of will utterly ignored, and manhood destroyed at the root.
Another quote reflects the debate and discussion concerning freedom in India, in relation to social, religious, and political ideologies:
We read in the scriptures that our desires are bonds, fettering us as well as others. But such words, by themselves, are so empty. It is only when we get to the point of letting the bird out of its cage that we can realize how free the bird has set us. Whatever we cage, shackles us with desire whose bonds are stronger than those of iron chains. I tell you, sir, this is just what the world has failed to understand.
There are debates and discussions about aggressive nationalistic movements throughout the book, as Tagore suggests a cautionary approach to nationalism:
You are dark, even as the flints are. You must come to violent conflicts and make a noise in order to produce your sparks. But their disconnected flashes merely assist your pride, and not your clear vision.
Tagore's novel also addresses the differences between men and women in India, where traditionally men are dominant and women are subservient:
Men can only think. Women have a way of understanding without thinking. Woman was created out of God's own fancy. Man, He had to hammer into shape.
The triangle of relationships between Nikhil, Bimala, and Sandip provide an interesting twist to the story. There is much commentary on male-female relationships in the novel.
Woman knows man well enough where he is weak, but she is quite unable to fathom him where he is strong. The fact is that man is as much a mystery to woman as woman is to man. If that were not so, the separation of the sexes would only have been a waste of Nature's energy.
Also, the role of women and inequality in India is examined in the novel.
My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in the way of true equality; it only raises the level of ground meeting. Therefore the joy of the higher equality remains permanent; it never slides down to the vulgar level of triviality.
Tagore expresses Bimala's struggle with her desire to honor her husband but also to stay true to her own nationalistic, traditional views.