In his 1958 New York Times review, Crowther writes that Pather Panchali delicately illustrates how "poverty does not always nullify love" and how even very poor people can enjoy the little pleasures of their world. Marie Seton describes how the film intersperses the depiction of poverty and the delights and pleasures of youth. She represents the bond between Durga and Indir, and their fate, as signifying a philosophical core: that both the young and the old die. Seton writes of the film's "lyrical" qualities, noting especially the imagery immediately before the onset of monsoon. Robinson writes about a peculiar quality of "lyrical happiness" in the film, and states that Pather Panchali is "about unsophisticated people shot through with great sophistication, and without a trace of condescension or inflated sentiment".
Darius Cooper discusses the use of different rasa in the film, observing Apu's repeated "epiphany of wonder",[g] brought about not only by what the boy sees around him, but also when he uses his imagination to create another world. For Cooper, the immersive experience of the film corresponds to this epiphany of wonder. Stephen Teo uses the scene in which Apu and Durga discover railway tracks as an example of the gradual build-up of epiphany and the resulting immersive experience.
Sharmishtha Gooptu discusses the idea that the idyllic village life portrayed in Pather Panchali represents authentic Bengali village life, which disappeared during the upheavals of Partition in 1947. She suggests that the film seeks to connect an idealised, pre-partition past with the actual present of partitioned Bengal, and that it uses prototypes of rural Bengal to construct an image of the ideal village. In contrast to this idealism, Mitali Pati and Suranjan Ganguly point out how Ray used eye-level shots, natural lighting, long takes and other techniques to achieve realism. Mainak Biswas has written that Pather Panchali comes very close to the concept of Italian neorealism, as it has several passages with no dramatic development, even though the usual realities of life, such as the changing of seasons or the passing of a day, are concretely filmed.