Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories

Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Tagore explore traditional Indian domestic and gender roles?

    Marriage and marital relationships are the focus of several of Tagore's stories. In this essay, there are two major points to discuss. The first is the relationship between married couples and the specific roles they inhabit. You can look at Dakshayani in "Taraprasanna's Fame" and her guilt over not bearing her husband a son, or at Chandara in "Punishment" and her fierce independence that leads her to choose death over being married to a husband who betrayed her. The second major point to explore is the convention of the bridal dowry, which is a responsibility mainly borne by the husband, and central to the drama of "Profit and Loss," "Thoughtlessness," and "Taraprasanna's Fame." In all of these, the bridal dowry represents a point of pride for the family and sometimes their ability to marry a daughter into a higher social class. All in all, Tagore portrays domestic obligations as serious and often onerous.

  2. 2

    How does Tagore develop the theme of otherness in "Kabuliwallah"?

    "Kabuliwallah" is a story that centers a relationship between the narrator's young daughter and a traveling merchant from Afghanistan, with a climactic scene where the narrator recognizes his kinship with a man he considered quite different from himself. Tagore crafts a fantastic story by constructing the Kabuliwallah as an "other," or an outsider who represents something very different from the narrator's norm. Particularly revealing is the Kabuliwallah's personal presentation, including his style of dress and how he speaks, and how this distinguishes him from the narrator's community. Ultimately, the Kabuliwallah's difference helps to enable the narrator's feelings of weariness about him when he gets out of jail, and the Kabuliwallah's otherness is intensified as he is now a convicted criminal as well as an ethnic outsider. This all collapses when the narrator sees the Kabuliwallah's daughter's handprint, as the narrator realizes that despite all the otherness, he and the Kabuliwallah are both loving fathers.

  3. 3

    Discuss the portrayal of the British imperial government in Tagore's stories and what implication this has on Tagore's portrayal of Indian society.

    Tagore doesn't portray any British people directly in his story, but he does portray functionaries of the British imperial government that ruled India at the time. One of these is the postmaster in "The Postmaster," who is sent from his home in Calcutta to the countryside, where he struggles to adjust to the new speed of life. As a postmaster, he's there to help connect the local indigo trade to a wider Indian market, but he feels over-educated and sorely out of place in the new village. He develops a close relationship with an orphan who helps him with housework, but ultimately he abandons her. In "The Hungry Stones," the central storyteller is initially sent to Hyderabad as a tax collector, but is seduced by a haunted palace and moves like a ghost through his working days to spend his dreaming life enjoying the palace. In both scenarios, the functionaries of the government are portrayed as out of place in more traditional Indian areas, speaking to the struggles that India faced during Britain's push to modernize it. Explore interactions between characters and these protagonist's own feelings about their roles.

  4. 4

    How does Tagore's depiction of the supernatural shape the stories that he tells?

    Tagore has a variety of ways that he explores the supernatural in his short fiction. On one hand, he has ghost stories that mainly focus on supernatural events. In that grouping, there's "Skeleton," where the spirit of a woman returns to tell a story of unrequited love and a murder-suicide, as well as "The Hungry Stones," which tells the story of a man who is seduced by the lustful temptations of a haunted palace that seeks to trap his soul. On the other hand, the supernatural appears in Tagore's stories as smaller details, as elements in his characters' daily lives. Consider "Taraprasanna's Fame," where the husband and wife rely on amulets and other charms to keep them safe in the face of danger. There's also "Thoughtlessness," where the doctor believes he is being punished by some supernatural force for cheating his friend. In these stories, the supernatural stands as an ironic contrast to harrowing, real-life problems.

  5. 5

    Why do Tagore's stories sometimes have a clear moral, and at other times not? Compare the endings and lessons of some of his stories.

    Tagore's fiction can be equally powerful regardless of whether or not he chooses to teach a lesson. In "Punishment" and "Kabuliwallah," the morals are clear. Tagore lays out specific interpersonal interactions that speak to a general way that others should be treated, and it's easy to discern what lesson Tagore is trying to teach. But in others, like "Profit and Loss" or "The Postmaster," Tagore is setting out a moral conundrum, and in these stories, he seems interested in the types of ethically complicated situations which have no clear resolution. In a sense, these are the more modern of Tagore's stories since they deal with complex, unresolved problems. In yet other stories of Tagore's, such as "The Hungry Stones" and "Skeleton," a scandalous narrative unfolds but both are cut off before they end, without any sort of moralizing commentary. Part of what makes Tagore an expert storyteller is his ability to modulate how resolved any of his given stories should end up.