Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608
There is a surprisingly large and bizarre cast of characters in this short story. The most important is the protagonist, whose name he himself gives only as "Srijut So-and-so, the eldest son of So-and-so blessed memory." We are introduced to him at the beginning of the story as a mysterious figure who our narrator meets on a train. The narrator remarks that this mysterious figure (Srijut) "discoursed upon all subjects so confidently . . . (and) would quote science, or comment on the Vedas, or repeat quatrains from some Persian poet" so that he seemed as if he "must have been supernaturally inspired." Srijut then offers to tell the narrator and the narrator's friend a story, and it is in that story that we meet the rest of the cast of characters.
First of all there is the house in the story that Srijut stays in. The house is personified and becomes a character in its own right: "it was like a living organism slowly and imperceptibly digesting me by the action of some stupefying gastric juice." This house then is a house of horrors, and it seems to be drawing Srijut into its bowels. Later in the story the house is described metaphorically as a flame attracting moths:
"O fire, the poor moth that made a vain effort to fly away has come back to thee! Forgive it but this once, burn its wings and consume it in thy flame!"
The house is also described as "groaning day and night under the weight of its own intense solitude." It is a house isolated from the rest of the community, almost as if it has been cast out. Inside this strange house Srijut starts to experience very peculiar waking dreams and hallucinations, and in those dreams and hallucinations he meets the other characters in the story.
One of those characters is a eunuch, "dressed in rich brocade, sitting and dozing with outstretched legs, with a naked sword in his lap." This eunuch has something about him which terrifies Srijut ("a sudden dread froze the blood in my heart") and when awake the eunuch runs through the house shouting "Stand back! Stand back! All is false! All is false!" Later we learn that the eunuch used to be a resident of the house, but like all people who come to reside there was driven mad by it. Nevertheless, he still has enough presence of mind to warn others about the house, as noted above.
The other characters in the story we can group collectively as the beautiful women. Srijut meets several of them during his dreams, including "a bevy of joyous maidens," a "fair guide" and a likewise "fair damsel." These women are all described in similar terms. They are beautiful, decorated with "jangling bracelets" or "bedecked with rings," and they all waft in and out of sight, like "fragrance(s) wafted away by the wind . . . dispersed by a single breath of the spring." These women are guides and seductresses, luring Srijut deeper and deeper into the bowels of the house.
At the end of the story Srijut tells the narrator that he eventually found out how to leave the house, courtesy of the eunuch, but before he can disclose the story of his escape the train pulls into a station and our narrator departs, leaving him and us in suspense as to the end of Srijut's story. The fact that Srijut managed to escape adds another layer of mystery to his character, and makes us perhaps take more seriously the assertion made at the beginning of the story, that this is indeed a man who seems to have been "supernaturally inspired."
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