Student Question

What does "lonesome waif, forsaken by the world" mean in The Postmaster?

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These words are used to describe Ratan, the girl who came to help out around the home and office of the Postmaster.  Ratan is an orphan, but one who is old enough to remember her parents and her younger brother.  We never learn what happened to them, but this detail is enough to imagine that Ratan feels very much abandoned in their absence.  She and the Postmaster have a good relationship, each being the other’s only true companion – Ratan is always there in the yard, “waiting for his call,” and cares for The Postmaster when he is sick.  As for the Postmaster, “He longed to remember the touch on the forehead of soft hands with tinkling bracelets, to imagine the presence of loving womanhood, the nearness of mother and sister.”  And Ratan fills this role admirably.  Yet, when he resigns his post and leaves the village for his home in Calcutta, he does not take Ratan with him.  This is her final abandonment – she was alone, a young, skinny girl with no family and no friends in the world besides the Postmaster.  And now he is leaving her.  And so, to describe her as “that lonesome waif, forsaken of the world” simply emphasizes how dependent Ratan is on her relationship with the Postmaster, and how now she has nothing to call her home.  Indeed, once the Postmaster has left the village, “she was wandering about the post office in a flood of tears.”  She had nowhere to go and no one to go to.  And now she must make her own way in the world, lonesome, yes, and forsaken.

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