Discussion Topic

Analysis of human characterization, philosophy, societal reflection, and the role of nature in Rabindranath Tagore's "The Postmaster."

Summary:

Rabindranath Tagore's "The Postmaster" explores human characterization through the bond between the postmaster and Ratan, highlighting themes of loneliness and connection. Philosophically, it reflects on the transient nature of relationships and the human quest for belonging. Societally, it critiques class differences and rural-urban divides. Nature plays a pivotal role, symbolizing both solace and the inevitability of change.

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How does Rabindranath Tagore relate human characterization to the natural setting in "The Postmaster?"

I think that Tagore has done a fairly effective job of linking human personality with the natural settings in "The Postmaster."  The fact that Ratan, the orphan, is a village girl is effective for a couple of reasons.  The fact that Ratan is considered discarded might be significant in terms of relating how village life in India is perceived in comparison to its urban counterpart.  Additionally, I think that Ratan's strength and courage, her willingness to stand alone when others have left is reflective how Tagore saw the "Indian spirit" of resilience.  It is no surprise that someone as nationalistic as Tagore linked these traits with the village girl, Ratan.  By contrast, the urbane postmaster is one who is inconsistent and not really as reliable or even as physically austere as Ratan.  Her mettle and sense of character is far more strong than his, and this is evident in both how Tagore depicts both of them in the village setting.  The fact that he leaves back to Calcutta and presents a waffling figure of the postmaster reflects how Tagore feels about him and the loyalty he shows and admires in Ratan.  In this light, Tagore has been able to link  natural setting to characterization and even political beliefs.

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Where is Rabindranath Tagore's philosophy evident in "The Postmaster"?

I think that the ending of the short story is where Tagore's philosophy is the most evident.  Tagore's philosophy is one in which he refuses to acquiesce to a transcendent notion of reality when he feels reality simply does not offer it.  Tagore's philosophy is rooted in the idea that the modern predicament has an element of alienation intrinsic to it.  The postmaster himself is alienated from his being in the world while in living in Ulapur. Ratan is an orphan.  She is alienated from nearly everyone.  For both of them, their alienation and befriending one another is a response to the alienation that Tagore feels is intrinsic to the modern setting.  This philosophical tenet is fully appreciated by both the postmaster's actions and the ending of the novel.  After all of the support that Ratan has given him, the postmaster abandons her.  This is consistent with Tagore's philosophy of Modernism, a condition in which there is no real unifying force or transcendent element that seeks to provide automatic redemption.  Certainly, this is seen in the ending.  Tagore's ending is one in which the postmaster experiences a small moment of regret, one in which the postmaster feels that he should act to provide some type of transcendent unity in being.  This is dispelled by the postmaster's reaction to the natural world that he perceives, a setting in which there is little coherence and unity.  In this, Tagore's philosophy helps to explain both the ending and the challenging sense of trajectory that is in the short story.

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How does "The Postmaster" by Rabindranath Tagore reflect Indian society?

This excellent short story reflects the true poverty faced by so many in rural India in the form of the backwater where the postmaster, himself a young man coming from Calcutta, has his first job. The narrator tells the reader that the postmaster felt like a "fish out of water" in his new location and mention is made of the very strict notion of class that is so much a part of India in the following quote, where the exclusion the postmaster feels is commented upon:

The indigo agents and employees had hardly any spare time, and were not suitable company for an educated man. Or rather, his Calcutta background made him a bad mixer--in an unfamiliar place he was either arrogant or ill-at-ease.

Indian society therefore is one that is depicted as being hopelessly bound by issues such as caste and class, and this prevents the postmaster from integrating into his new situation and context. Even the curious friendship that he forms with Ratan is very much based on his own terms, and it is important to note that in his response to Ratan when she asks if he can take her with him when he leaves, he "saw no need to explain to the girl why the idea was impossible," and only laughs at the impossibility of the notion. India is thus presented as a location where notions of class and status create insurmountable barriers that cannot be breached, and although the postmaster has "philosophy" that he is able to use to console himself, the rural poor such as Ratan have no such luxury, and is left with her "poor, unthinking human heart" that leaves her very much the worse off.

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How does Rabindranath Tagore unite human beings and nature in "The Postmaster"?

The setting plays a big part.  When I picture the village in India I think of it with nature as backdrop.  There is something about the word "village" that makes me think of the interaction between people and the environment.

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What is the moral of "The Postmaster" by Rabindranath Tagore?

Nobel Prize winning writer Rabindranath Tagore created the genre of the short story in Bengali literature. Although his family was rich and had vast land holdings, Tagore spent much of his life amidst common village people and frequently wrote of the hardships, sociological bonds, and heartfelt emotions that shaped their lives. The moral of "The Postmaster" is that despite the various social strata in which people find themselves by birth, loneliness and the need for companionship and love are common to all. However, it is very difficult to overcome the strictures and limitations that society has imposed on such companionship.

The postmaster, for instance, is far away from his native Calcutta, where his family lives. He feels out of place and thinks to himself:

Oh, if only some kindred soul were near— just one loving human being whom I could hold near my heart!

The irony is that in his next breath he calls for the servant girl Ratan, who is always near him, has no family and secretly falls in love with him. As a salve for his loneliness, and to give himself something to do, he begins to teach her to read. She in turn nurses him back to health when he becomes ill. However, he cannot take the step of acknowledging her devotion because she is of a different class or caste. In his loneliness he decides to leave his post and return home. Despite their feelings for each other, the social barriers cannot be overcome, and an offering of money cannot assuage her grief. In the end, he considers going back for her but does not. Thus a potential romance becomes instead a tragedy. Tagore laments, "Alas for our foolish human nature! Its fond mistakes are persistent." In other words, the tragedies of the human heart occur again and again and people never seem to learn from mistakes that others have made.

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What is the moral of "The Postmaster" by Rabindranath Tagore?

A story does not have to have a moral. A short story, according to Edgar Allan Poe, the father of the modern short story, a story has to produce a "single effect." Tagore's story "The Postmaster" certainly does that. The effect we feel is deep pity for the poor orphan girl who was so devoted to the postmaster. That feeling stays with us long after we have read the story, and if we go back and read it again we will experience the same strong "effect" or emotion all over again. If there is any moral intended, it is probably: Life is cruel, or life is unfair. Perhaps what is important is that we feel love for the girl and that we share this love with all the other people in different lands who also feel love for the same girl. The moral of any story has to be deduced from its "single effect."

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What is the role of nature in Rabindranath Tagore's "The Postmaster"?

Nature occupies a central role at the start and at the end of the story. At the outset of the story, nature is described in a condition as posing challenges to the postmaster.  In order to convey how out of place the postmaster feels in Ulapur, nature is used to accentuate the disconnect he experiences:   "He felt like a fish out of water in this remote village. His office and living-room were in a dark thatched shed, not far from a green, slimy pond, surrounded on all sides by a dense growth."  The "slimy pond" and "dense growth" helps to communicate the postmaster's fundamental disconnect to the world of Ulapur and his yearning to go back to the metropolitan setting of Calcutta. As the rainy season continues on, the postmaster falls ill, almost blaming the natural conditions in Ulapur for his illness.  Here again, one notices how weather and natural conditions seek to enhance the disconnect that the postmaster feels in Ulapur.

The ending is where nature acquires a particular thematic significance to the story.  Upon reflecting how Ratan's heart must be broken, and hearing "the great unspoken pervading grief of Mother Earth herself," nature takes a critical role in the text:

At one time he had an impulse to go back, and bring away along with him that lonesome waif, forsaken of the world. But the wind had just filled the sails, the boat had got well into the middle of the turbulent current, and already the village was left behind, and its outlying burning-ground came in sight.

The combination of the "turbulent current" and his own powers of rationalization help the postmaster  overcome his momentary feeling of pain in his actions towards Ratan. This is accented with "the swift flowing river" that continues on, regardless of human affairs.  The postmaster uses nature as a way to enhance a justification for why he did what he did.  The postmaster uses nature as a means to deny, to forget the transgression he committed.  The postmaster ends up using nature, the same force that troubled him so much in Ulapur, as a means to make himself feel better about his actions.  In this, the reader sees an added significance to nature in the text.

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What does "The Postmaster" reveal about Tagore's philosophy of life?

I think that Tagore argues that there is an intrinsic cruelty and resultant suffering that represents part of human relationships at the end of "The Postmaster."  The conclusion is one where the postmaster rejects Ratan's wish to accompany him as he leaves the village.  Little is said between them, and he offers money to her as compensation.  She is left to wander the village in the faint hope of his return, and while he feels an instant of guilt that he has caused another human being unspeakable pain, the postmaster rationalizes it away as the way of the world.  It is this ending where Tagore offers up a sentiment that human metaphysics can be used to justify about everything except the breaking of another person's heart.  Yet, I think that Tagore offers up this ending to try to get people to recognize that this condition of the human predicament can be changed if human beings are a bit more attune to the suffering of others.  Tagore recognizes that his short story presents a hurtful vision of consciousness.  Yet, I believe that he presents this in the hopes of individuals recognizing this in their own lives and taking active steps to change it.  In this, Tagore offers a vision of what is in the hopes of what can be.  In this transformative notion, Tagore ends up rendering a potentially redemptive philosophy of being in the world with the bleak end of his story.

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