Rabindranath Tagore

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How does Rabindranath Tagore's Chokher Bali portray the traditional Indian widow?

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In Indian Culture, the concept of a widow is a very negative one. Indeed, throughout historical cultures and many non-western societies, widows are typically shunned or looked down upon. They are often viewed as burdensome to society. In this novel, the main character, Binodini is a widow, and what's more, she's having an affair. She is often regarded with a great deal of criticism and disrespect because of her status as a widow.

In traditional Indian society, a widowed woman is bound for life—she is not supposed to remarry, nor can she find much in the way of work to provide for herself and her family, because the man was traditionally the breadwinner. However, it is not uncommon, and not as shunned, for a man, even one that is already married, to have affairs, even with widows. So, while the woman is derided both for being a widow and for being with a married man, the man typically suffers no ill will.

This novel, which translates loosely to "Eyesore" highlights the grim reality that widows, and women at large, face in traditional Indian societies. This can be extrapolated as an example of women's suffering and discrimination that is common throughout the world, and it is an important piece to highlight prejudice and gender disparity.

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Tagore's novel explores how social commendation of widows impacts women whose husbands have died.  Tagore's construction of Binodini as a widow is one who has not relinquished her passions for love, sex, and companionship.  Tagore makes it clear that the idea of progress cannot be present in Indian society if it views women whose husbands die in such a harsh light.  Tagore's depiction of society's treatment of widows is one in which women whose husbands die almost themselves lose the right to live.  It is unspeakable for Binodini to think of another man and almost indecent for her to have feelings for Mahendra.  Tagore also points out a contradiction within this dynamic.  While it is socially unacceptable for Binodini to look at a man, Tagore criticizes the society that does not sanction Mahendra for coveting a widow, or any woman, while he is wedded to Ashalata.  For Tagore, this hypocrisy underscores the backwards nature of Indian society in its treatment of women, and widows, in particular.  It is here where Tagore shows how wrong the traditional Indian society is in its view of women and widows.

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