South Asia Book Review Instructions: Please Submit Essay

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SOUTH ASIA Book Review INSTRUCTIONS: Please submit a book review

Rabindranath Tagore is a South Asian novelist of considerable acclaim who won a Nobel prize for literature. In one of his more well-known works of literature, Home and the World, he demonstrates that his reputation is not only well deserved, but possibly even something of an understatement. While utilizing a variety of narrators, the author has produced an intricately woven tale of passion, love, politics, and plain common sense that is both riveting and didactic. He is able to develop these elements of the plot by a relatively simple opposition of characterization between two protagonists whom the third, a woman, must ultimately choose between. This classic love triangle enables the novelist to explore a variety of themes, which ultimately relate to the notion of truth vs. illusion and all of the trappings (both material and otherwise) that accompany these concepts.

In exploring the principle themes of this novel it is virtually impossible to ignore the principle characters and their relationships to those themes. The contrast of truth and illusion is demonstrated most readily in the characterization (and polarization) of Nikhil and Sandip, a pair of childhood friends who have taken decidedly different paths later in life. Nikhil is married to Bimala who, in light of her increasing attraction to Sandip, finds herself torn between the familiar (her husband), and the lesser known (his best friend). In this respect, Nikhil is representative of the truth. He has been married to his wife for a considerable amount of time and he genuinely cares for her -- even if she would rather be with another. Sandip, on the other hand, is representative of the forces of illusion. He is a staunch nationalist revolutionary who does not care for Bimala nearly as much as he cares about achieving his own aims -- personally, within the revolution, and in regards to his relationships with most others.

The polarization between these two is evinced in other thematic issues deconstructed throughout this work. The title refers to that polarization that this pair represents, effectively, for Bimala. Specifically, the familiarity of her husband and his way of life is referred to as and takes on connotations of home, whereas the secular aspirations of Sandip and their seemingly necessity are suggestive of the world at large. Quite simply, Bimala's husband has little interest in the revolution taking place and simply represents a life of comfort and love, whereas Sandip is representative of a more intellectually stimulating and challenging world of uncertainty and extreme emotions. Neither of these men can offer (certainly not to Bimala) what the other can, which makes her decision between the pair all the more compelling. These thematic issues are also enacted outside of this romantic backdrop as well. The book deals with the very real repercussions of the Swadesi movement, which was the struggle for Bengali independence in the overall fight for Indian independence from the grips of British tyranny and colonialism. Seemingly noble in aim, the motivation of the nationalists may not have been as pure and as benevolent as it seemed -- certainly not to Bimala. Within this larger context of truth vs. illusion, familiarity vs. unfamiliarity (or perhaps the worldly) lies a similar theme of practicality vs. passion and uncertainty. All of these themes are represented by the polarization of the principal characters, and Bimala's vacillation between them.

The crux of this novel is that there is no uncertainty about Tagore's stance on all of these themes. Were there a singular thesis across all of these different motifs, it would simply encompass the fact that the personal, the familiar, and love are much more truthful than the worldly, the purported revolution, and the seduction of unbidden passion and intellectual ideals. This fact is decided plainly enough through Bimala's characterization and the particular choices she makes. She does leave her husband briefly to traverse upon Sandip's foreign world of nationalism, radical politics, and selfishness, but she inevitably heads back to her husband and his familiar comfort, which proves much more substantial than what Sandip offers. This thesis is evinced firstly through the fate of the characters, and is similarly accredited through the political situation and as it relates to gender issues as well. In consideration of the former, it is essential to understand the relationship between Bimala and her husband, and what it reveals about their characterizations. The pair represent conventionality -- not only is Nikhil a wealthy capitalist who is benefiting monetarily from the system that the British have imposed, but he has married his wife as part of a traditional arranged marriage. He cares for her yet is undoubtedly staid, and is representative of the traditional old world of Indian (Bengali values). His wife is certainly aware of these facts and can relate to them on a basic level, and believes that her "true place was at his feet" (Talgore, 2005, p. 23), yet is also drawn to the revolutionary sentiment, the modernization of the ideals and intellectual propensity of Sandip (which is diametrically opposed to these characteristics of her husband). Again, the fact that she chooses Sandip's worldly offerings over her husband's prior to understanding the illusion upon which they are based indicates that she and the author ultimately value the old world truths over the follies of modernity.

Still, how Bimala undergoes the aforementioned process sheds as much insight on the nature of nationalism and the politics at the center of this work as it does about gender roles. As Nikhil's wife, Bimala's life is circumscribed to doting on her husband's needs and fulfilling domestic duties. Such responsibilities are typical of traditional Indian marriages and are symbolic of the sort of reserved life which ultimately leaves Bimala yearning for more. In this regard Sandip, with his ardor for politics and intellectual penchant, seemingly presents the sort of alternative that not only transcends Bimala's marriage, but also traditional roles of gender in Indian society. He claims that if he and Bimala "meet, and recognize each other, in the real world, then only will our love be true" (Talgore, 2005, p. 23). Nonetheless, Bimala quickly finds out after she leaves her husband that that such a newfound role is not the case. Although she now finds herself in the midst of a more dangerously volatile world, she soon learns that the center of it (for her, at least) -- Sandip -- is equally as volatile. Unlike her husband, Sandip has no genuine affection for Bimala, or for anyone else. He merely views her as a means of furthering his own ends which, for the majority of the book, are related to the revolution and to whatever temporary personal gratification he can get from them. Thus, Bimala quickly finds out that the traditional role for Indian women is not so easily transgressed. Perhaps more importantly, this facet of the novel renders the opposition of Nikhil and Sandip in stark, unquestionable terms. Nikhil actually cares so much about his wife that he is willing to let her leave him and be with another if she thinks doing so will help her attain some form of happiness. Such caring is rare because it requires one to expressly concern oneself with another's happiness, even if doing so eliminates the former from the latter's life. Nikhil is willing to do so and Sandip is not, which is why Bimala ultimately returns to her husband and the familiar comfort of her home, eschewing some of her longing for the outside world.

The degree of ambiguity that is an integral part of Sandip's character (he primarily seeks the noble ends of the revolution, yet chiefly does so in order to better himself) is also indicative of the author's stance about nationalism and the aims of the revolution that Sandip supports. In this respect it is partly derivative of Western ideology and partly at variance with it, championing Indian superiority on a number of different levels. As it is portrayed through the form of nationalism evinced in Tagore's work, the revolution was merely about attempting to exorcise the British influence throughout India. Specifically, it was about removing the British and their physical presence from the Indian territory, in particular as that presence pertained to its government, military, police, etc. What the revolution actually sought was a transfer of power from one entity to the other -- from the British to natives of the areas that were occupied by these Westerners. A true revolution, however, is an overthrow of the mechanisms and means of power and brings about a different social system that is supported by a different form of government than that which preceded it. There is little evidence that such a wholesale revolution was desired by Sandip and his comrades -- as his treatment of others and of Bimala in particular certainly indicates. Bimala learned this truth and was able to glean it by discerning beyond the illusion.

In summary, the thematic device of truth ultimately…

Sources Used in Documents:


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Home and the World, trans. Surendranath Tagore, New York, Penguin Classics; Revised edition, 2005,

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