The Postmaster

by

Rabindranath Tagore

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Ratan is a “twelve or thirteen” year old “orphaned village girl” who helps the postmaster with housework in return for a portion of his meals. Tagore’s anonymous narrator notes that it is “unlikely” that she will get married, suggesting that her future is bleak: she is lower-class, lacks a family, and cannot marry out of her poverty or find employment outside of menial household work. At first reluctant to interact with the postmaster, Ratan gradually begins to enjoy her conversations with her “master,” in which she recounts her own family background and begins to form “affectionate imaginary pictures” of the postmaster’s own family life. Ratan also learns quickly from the postmaster’s lessons in reading and the alphabet. Eventually, Ratan comes to think of the postmaster as a father or husband, and she becomes dependent on his generosity and his conversations with her. She nurses him back to health after his sickness, “staying awake at his bedside all night long.” Finally, after the postmaster has recovered and decides to leave Ulapur, Ratan asks him to take her “home” with him—essentially, to adopt or marry her. The postmaster’s incredulous rejection of this proposal horrifies and embarrasses Ratan. After his departure, she wanders “near the post office, weeping copiously.” Destitute, lonely, and still uneducated, Ratan cannot leave the confines of Ulapur, though she wishes desperately to. She has neither the freedom nor the philosophy of the postmaster, who can comfort himself in his grief with the knowledge that death and separation are an inescapable part of life. Ratan, though, has no such knowledge, and thus, no such comfort.

Ratan Quotes in The Postmaster

The The Postmaster quotes below are all either spoken by Ratan or refer to Ratan . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Postmaster published in 1991.
The Postmaster Quotes

The postmaster would say abruptly, “So, Ratan, do you remember your mother?” She had lots to tell him: some things she remembered, others she did not. Her father loved her more than her mother did—she remembered him a little. He used to come home in the evening after working hard all day, and one or two evenings were clearly etched in her memory. As she talked, Ratan edged nearer to the postmaster, and would end up sitting on the ground at his feet.

Related Characters: The Postmaster (speaker), Ratan
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

He felt in need of comfort, ill and miserable as he was, in this isolated place, the rain pouring down. He remembered the touch on his forehead of soft hands, conch-shell bangles. He wished his mother or sister were sitting here next to him, soothing his illness and loneliness with feminine tenderness. And his longings did not stay unfulfilled. The young girl Ratan was a young girl no longer. From that moment on she took on the role of a mother.

Related Characters: The Postmaster , Ratan
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

When the postmaster had had his meal, she suddenly asked, “Dadababu, will you take me home with you?” “How could I do that!” said the postmaster, laughing. He saw no need to explain to the girl why the idea was impossible. All night long, whether dreaming or awake, Ratan felt the postmaster’s laugh ringing in her ears. “How could I do that!”

Related Characters: The Postmaster (speaker), Ratan (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

The postmaster felt a huge anguish: the image of a simple young village-girl’s grief-stricken face seemed to speak a great inarticulate universal sorrow. He felt a sharp desire to go back: should he not fetch that orphaned girl, whom the world had abandoned? ... Detached by the current of the river, he reflected that in life there are many separations, many deaths. What point was there in going back? Who belonged to whom in this world?”

Related Characters: The Postmaster (speaker), Ratan
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

But Ratan had no such philosophy to console her. All she could do was wander near the post office, weeping copiously. Maybe a faint hope lingered in her mind that Dadababu might return; and this was enough to tie her to the spot, prevent her from going far. O poor, unthinking human heart! Error will not go away, logic and reason are slow to penetrate.

Related Characters: Ratan (speaker), The Postmaster
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ratan Character Timeline in The Postmaster

The timeline below shows where the character Ratan appears in The Postmaster. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Postmaster
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
...the postmaster has to cook his own meals, though he hires an orphaned village girl, Ratan, to do housework for him, compensating her with a share of his food. In the... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ratan insists that she must light the kitchen fire, but  the postmaster tells her to get... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
These conversations about Ratan’s family go on late into the night, and eventually the postmaster and Ratan are too... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Sometimes, the postmaster tells Ratan about his own family: his younger brother, mother, and older sister. He misses them greatly,... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
The postmaster calls out for Ratan, who is eating unripe guavas under a guava tree. She gets up immediately, and the... (full context)
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...in the village. It becomes impossible to travel around Ulapur on foot instead of boat. Ratan waits for the postmaster by his door, but when he does not call for her,... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
The postmaster says that he is ill, and Ratan feels his forehead. He needs comfort in the midst of his isolation and misery, and... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Urban and Rural Life Theme Icon
...to the head office in Calcutta, asking for a transfer. Since the postmaster is recovered, Ratan leaves his bedroom and begins to wait for him by his door as usual, but... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
One day, the postmaster calls to Ratan, and she rushes eagerly into his house. The postmaster informs her that he is leaving... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
While the postmaster eats the chapati she has prepared, Ratan asks him if he will take her home with him. The postmaster laughs and replies,... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
...everyday from the river in a bucket) has been laid out already. He realizes that Ratan has carried the bath-water up from the river late the night before so that he... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Though the postmaster’s remark is meant to be kind and generous, Ratan cannot bear it, and she regards the comment as more severe than even the scoldings... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...trunk. When he is on the boat, he begins to feel miserable. He cannot forget Ratan’s grief-stricken face, and he suddenly wishes to return to her. However, the boat has departed,... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ratan cannot comfort herself with logic and philosophy in the way that the postmaster can. Instead,... (full context)