Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories

Rabindranath Tagore: Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "Skeleton"


The narrator tells us that when he was a young boy, there used to be a skeleton hanging on the wall in the room next to where he and his brothers slept. The boys used it to learn anatomy. For a period of years, this skeleton has been gone, but one night due to a shortage of space in the room, the narrator had to sleep in the room where the skeleton was once stored. He is awakened that night by a ghost looking for its skeleton. Even though the narrator is quite frightened, he acts nonchalant and tells the ghost to look for its skeleton quickly and get out so he can get back to sleep.

But the ghost asks the narrator if he would like to hear the story, and the narrator does not want to refuse the ghost. The ghost says that when she was alive, she had a husband that she feared like death. Fortunately for her, he died just two months into their marriage. She was considered a poisoned bride but knows that she was among the most beautiful women alive. Yet, she had no female family members and her brother declined to marry, so she often sat alone under the tree outside, thinking of how beautiful she was.

When a family friend graduated from medical school, he became her family's doctor. During one of their visits when the doctor was checking her pulse, she could feel his pulse too. She fell swiftly in love with the doctor, going through her days imagining herself through his eyes. After four more visits, she was firmly in love with him. Often, she would hang around his office and ask about medical matters, occasionally things like what poison you'd have to feed a man to kill him. The ghost asks the narrator what he'd think of the story if it ended there, and the narrator says he'd think it was alright, if incomplete.

The ghost goes on to tell of a day when she saw the doctor all dressed up. She pressed her brother for details and learns that in fact the doctor was getting married. She feels betrayed, given their bond, and finds the doctor to interrogate him. The doctor stands to make a large sum of money from the marriage, but doesn't seem too pleased about the affair. Shortly before his wedding, the doctor drinks alcohol with the brother on the roof.

But she has poisoned the doctor's drink in accordance with the advice the doctor gave her about how to kill a man. She takes the poison too, and lies down under a tree, resolving to die there with a peaceful smile on her face that will be the talk of the village. But the ghost says she was startled to find that instead of a peaceful smile, she was just a skeleton that boys would learn anatomy on. When she asks the narrator what he thinks about the story, he says he finds it hilarious—but there is no one there to hear his response.


Tagore's take on the ghost story is a peculiar one, and ultimately "Skeleton" isn't supposed to be a horror tale as much as it is an exploration of love and marriage in Indian society. Like with Chandara in "Punishment," the ghost here is portrayed as a fiercely independent woman who finds her way out of an undesirable marriage situation. The ghost is deemed by society a "poisoned woman" which later proves ironic considering the fact that she poisons the doctor. We wonder if perhaps she poisoned her first husband too.

Much of the drama of the story hinges on the ways that Tagore prods at the limits of typical domestic arrangements. He portrays a woman with a considerable amount of agency who finds herself single and flirting with a man she's attracted to, and ultimately disrupts the doctor's chance at a fruitful domestic life by murdering him. But, interestingly, the woman's actions aren't written as scandalous or out-of-line, but rather as a simple matter of fact.

Desire ultimately plays a funny role in the story, as the ghost talks about a murder that was clearly inspired by some emotion like love, but the only person the ghost seemed to truly ever love was herself. She loved the way she looked through the eyes of someone who was attracted to her. So just as this is not a conventional ghost story, it's barely anything we'd come to expect from a love story either.