The Home and the World Themes
The main themes in The Home and the World are moderation versus extremism, tradition versus progress, and the roles of women in society.
- Moderation versus extremism: Nikhil and Sandip represent opposing approaches to achieving change.
- Tradition versus progress: The novel considers the tension between long-standing norms and newly emerging values.
- The roles of women in society: The novel portrays various views of women’s roles in society, some of which are problematic.
Last Updated on July 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 890
Moderation versus Extremism
Throughout the novel, characters like Chandranath and Nikhil almost religiously ascribe to moderation in all facets of life, whereas characters like Bimala and Sandip take more extreme approaches. For instance, early in the story, Bimala wants to burn her foreign dresses in solidarity with the Swadeshi movement. Nikhil suggests that she should simply store them away and focus on building up something rather than destruction, but Bimala responds that the excitement of destruction will help them build. This exchange seems to sum up the main conflict in the story: Nikhil attempts to make change through slow progress and moderation, whereas Sandip’s philosophy is to take through bloodshed what he believes to be rightfully his. This is also seen when Sandip talks about poetry versus prose. He says that Nikhil is interested in poetry, which deals in the world of abstractions and ideals. Poetry can also be interpreted in various ways. On the other hand, Sandip talks about prose as weapons that will help them attain their goal. There is no room for relativity or other opinions in Sandip’s approach.
While Sandip is the villain of the story, Nikhil’s commitment to what he sees as truth beyond Sandip’s fanaticism is still problematic. As Nikhil refuses to boycott European goods in his markets, he is suspected of siding with the enemy. At the end of the story, it is not entirely clear if he has been killed, but it is implied that he has been severely wounded. This occurs when Nikhil attempts to stop the abuse of women. His efforts to help were certainly valiant, but it was his moral commitment to a kind of moderation that ultimately ended in his (potential) demise. It may be that Tagore is warning us about the evils of extremism through the character of Sandip but also suggesting that too relative and moderate a stance can also be problematic, as it becomes unclear what one’s values truly are.
Tradition versus Progressivism
The Home and the World also explores the theme of tradition versus progressivism. This story takes place in the early 1900s during the height of British colonialism, when India was just beginning to reclaim its independence from the British. In the story, Nikhil’s approach to resistance anticipates Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement, which was a form of civil disobedience while building up Indian infrastructure. This is seen in Nikhil’s own investment of money into Indian banks or when Bimala offers to burn her British clothes early in the story, when she is still aligned with her husband’s ways of thinking. Burning clothes was also a form of emerging nonviolent protest at the time. We might say that this less passionate approach, driven by symbols, politics and economy, aligns with a postcolonial way of thinking.
Sandip, on the other hand, advocates for passionate bloodshed, and suggests that the history of the world is written in conquest after conquest. This is a more colonial mindset. The ways that Nikhil and Sandip approach resistance also show juxtaposition of thought that represents the new ways against the old ways of fighting.
The Roles of Women in Society
Throughout the novel, there are various statements about women and the roles they occupy, many of them conflicting and potentially troubling. Early in the text, Bimala becomes a kind of “everywoman” as Sandip calls her the Shakti of the country—that is, someone who represents femininity in India altogether. Bimala’s feelings toward Sandip become complicated, and even as she grows to detest him, his charismatic nature often forces her to doubt herself. Women’s roles are frequently framed in terms of the idea of subservience: while Bimala’s husband wants her to be his equal, she feels she must worship him regardless of his “modern” views. It is additionally through subservience that she eventually reconciles with her sister-in-law, and she regularly bows to her husband and other men, taking the dust from their feet. It is unclear to what extent the novel—and Tagore—condone such a view of women’s roles.
Important to note is that many of the statements made in the text are from men’s point of view. In fact, it is Sandip, whose own opinions about women are notably misogynistic, who names Bimala the Shakti. He makes numerous troubling statements about women related to their impulsiveness and the idea that for a woman to truly be fulfilled, she must be giving to the men around her: “for men to accept is truly to give: for women to give is truly to gain.” In light of Sandip’s bigoted words, it seems Bimala represents his ideal of what a woman should be rather than an attempt to represent womanhood in general.
In the final chapter, Rani suggests that living life again as a woman would be a curse: “I would not live my life again—not as a woman!” Here and elsewhere, this book suggests that the lives of women at this point in Indian history were difficult, not least due to the many social pressures they were obliged to observe. In this context, it becomes incumbent upon the reader to determine whether the statements in the novel about the nature of women reflect the character’s particular views or the broader culture’s values—or both.