The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Tigers (Symbol)

Throughout the novel, tigers symbolize the immense power that the natural world holds in the Sundarbans, where even saying the word "tiger" is taboo. Though there are other dangers in the Sundarbans, such as crocodiles and cyclones, the focus on tigers makes them a unique symbol in the novel. Tigers are also connected to the religion of the Sundarbans through the tiger demon Dokkhin Rai, who people believe controls part of the Sundarbans, while the goddess Bon Bibi protects other parts.

Gamchhas (motif)

Gamchhas, a type of towel used in India, appear throughout the novel. Towards the beginning, Piya recognizes the gamchha Fokir has and recalls the one her father owned, using it to connect herself to Fokir and to her Indian heritage. Later in the novel, gamchhas protect both Horen and his uncle and Piya (although not Fokir) from cyclones, which associates them with safety and preservation.

The hospital (Symbol)

The hospital that Nilima founds symbolizes the importance of translating one's ideals into practice and the impact that doing so can have. By creating the hospital, Nilima has been able to improve life on the Sundarbans for its residents, although she has also had to make compromises in her ideals by working with the government, which her husband Nirmal fiercely opposes. Notably, unlike Nirmal's notebook, the hospital survives the cyclone undamaged, emphasizing its permanence.

The cyclone shelter (Symbol)

Though Nirmal's contributions are often too theoretical, the cyclone shelter is one exception. It represents what he could accomplish when he was being more practical and willing to compromise. Furthermore, it also ensures that Nirmal's legacy is not completely insignificant, since the cyclone shelter protects the community from the cyclone at the climax of the novel.

Bengali (symbol)

For Piya, the Bengali language is a language of violence and conflict, as she associates it with her parents' arguments. Yet as the novel progresses and she gets to know Fokir, who speaks only Bengali, she comes to appreciate the language more, even enjoying his singing. Thus, Piya's relationship with Bengali shifts over the course of the novel, just like her relationship with India as a whole.