Discussion Topic

The significance of the title and the anonymity of the postmaster in Rabindranath Tagore's story

Summary:

The title "The Postmaster" highlights the central character's occupation rather than his personal identity, emphasizing the universality of his experiences. The anonymity of the postmaster underscores his role as an everyman, representing the transient nature of human connections and the impersonal aspects of societal roles.

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Why is the postmaster unnamed in Rabindranath Tagore's "The Postmaster"?

To answer this question, we will have to understand Tagore's perspective on his beloved India. To him, India had long been mired in superstitious traditions, and he argued for a more open approach towards science and global influences. Tagore also deplored in his lifetime the constant conflicts between opposing factions of Muslims and Hindus; as an enlightened thinker, he argued for solidarity, understanding, and cooperation between religions and castes.

In one of his most famous poems, Tagore argued for independent judgment and freedom of thought. His message had always been the tearing down of "narrow domestic walls" that threatened peace, stability, and progress.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit (from Where the Mind Is Without Fear).

So, in "The Postmaster," the main character remains unnamed. It is entirely possible that Tagore meant the postmaster to represent a universal character, one who exists within the higher reaches of the caste system and who zealously protects the status quo at all costs. In the story, the postmaster abandons his faithful servant girl, despite her expressed desire to go with him:

When the postmaster had finished his supper, the girl suddenly asked him: "Dada, will you take me to your home?"

The postmaster laughed. "What an idea!" said he; but he did not think it necessary to explain to the girl wherein lay the absurdity.

That whole night, in her waking and in her dreams, the postmaster's laughing reply haunted her—"What an idea!"

The postmaster thinks Ratan's question "absurd." While Ratan sees her employer as a father figure, the postmaster feels no answering emotional attachment to her. The question of caste (and reputation) strongly permeates this story; thus, Tagore does not name his protagonist because he is highlighting a universal issue in Indian culture, one that continues to resonate even to this day.

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Justify the title "The Postmaster" in Rabindranath Tagore's story.

I think that the title of the work is relevant.  Although, I feel it is relevant for different reasons that traditionally held.  Tagore’s work forces the reader to examine the moral and ethical standing of the postmaster.  At the start of the work, the reader understands, to a certain extent, the difficulties endured with this cosmopolitan postmaster being transferred to this village where he is, literally, foreign to its way of life.  Yet, Tagore plays off of this and forces us to really change our understanding of the postmaster through his depiction of Ratan.  In my mind, the reason why the title is justified is because when we understand more of Ratan, we end up viewing the postmaster differently than when we did at the outset of the work.  Whereas we had sympathy for the postmaster at the start, we end up having more respect for Ratan .  She proves to be stronger, more durable, and a heck of lot more loyal than the postmaster.  She may be “just an orphan,” but she possesses more redemptive qualities than the postmaster, who comes across as kind of a jerk by the end of the story.  Hence, the title is something that is almost reflexive in that it shows us, in an odd way, how our perceptions have changed over the course of reading the story.

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Justify the title "The Postmaster" in Rabindranath Tagore's story.

I think that the significance of the title of Tagore's short story works on both literal and symbolic levels.  On one hand, the literal significance of the title reflects how life changed in the village, in particular for Ratan, once the Postmaster entered.  Ratan's life is forever changed by the presence of the postmaster.  To a large extent, we, as the reader, can assess this change through the postmaster's eyes, for we, like he, are new to the village and interpret much of it as he does.  This might be where the title holds some level of symbolic significance.  While we, as the reader, understand the village through his eyes, we slowly become more attune to Ratan, and while we initially understand consciousness through the postmaster, the real protagonist of the story might be Ratan.  There is a definite siding with the orphaned and abandoned Ratan in terms of her loyalty, her commitment to the postmaster, and her willingness to stgand with him through challenges and successes.  When the postmaster leaves the village and tries to rationalize away his abandoning of Ratan, like he, we as the reader experience a divided consciousness for we end the narrative, yet constantly wonder what will become of Ratan.  If we, as the reader, open with the postmaster, the title's significance is that we don't end with him, as we are more concerned with Ratan.  It is Tagore's genius that he is able to shift our sympathies without we, as the reader, being conscious of it.

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