The Postmaster

by

Rabindranath Tagore

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The Postmaster Character Analysis

The postmaster (known only by his job title, never by his actual name) is a young Indian man from Calcutta employed as a postmaster in Ulapur, a rural Bengal village. The postmaster comes to Ulapur after the British owner of an indigo dye factory in Ulapur asks the government to install a post office there. This is an institution that will modernize Ulapur, providing the isolated village with a means of contact with the outside world. Because the postmaster is from Calcutta, a large city, he feels out of place in rural Ulapur, and he is a “bad mixer”: he does not know how to interact with the other men in Ulapur (indigo factory workers who are poorly educated, unlike the postmaster, and too busy with their own work to spend time with him). The postmaster has “little work to do” and earns a “meager” salary. In his free time, he tries to write poetry, though he feels somewhat disillusioned with the themes of his own poems. He writes about the transcendent beauty of nature in Ulapur, yet he would prefer to be in urban Calcutta, with its impressive “paved roads” and “high rises.” Out of boredom and loneliness, the postmaster develops a relationship with Ratan, an orphan who helps him with housework, and he begins to share stories about his life with her. He also begins to teach her how to read. However, the unending monsoons in Ulapur depress the postmaster and cause him to become ill. He quits his job and leaves Ratan behind in Ulapur, offering her a significant sum of money out of guilt—which she refuses. At the end of the narrative, the postmaster, leaving Ulapur by boat, reflects “philosophically” on his situation, comforting himself by thinking that there would be “no point” in returning to Ratan, since life is fleeting, always filled with death and separation. Though the postmaster does show kindness to Ratan, his own loneliness and sense of alienation and purposelessness lead him to take advantage of the orphan girl’s own loneliness and isolation. Ultimately, the postmaster’s urban, educated background renders him incapable of understanding life—and other people—in Ulapur, making his return to Calcutta inevitable.

The Postmaster Quotes in The Postmaster

The The Postmaster quotes below are all either spoken by The Postmaster or refer to The Postmaster . 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 was a Calcutta boy—he was a fish out of water in a village like this. His office was in a dark thatched hut; there was a pond next to it, scummed over with weeds, and jungle all around. The indigo agents and employees had hardly any spare time, and were not suitable company for an educated man. Or rather, his Calcutta background made him a bad mixer—in an unfamiliar place he was either arrogant or ill-at-ease. So there was not much contact between him and the residents in the area.

Related Characters: The Postmaster
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes he tried to write poems. The bliss of spending one’s life watching the leaves trembling in the trees or the clouds in the sky—that was what the poems expressed. God knew, however, that if a genie out of an Arab tale had come and cut down all the leafy trees overnight, made a road, and blocked out the sky with rows of tall buildings, this half-dead, well-bred young man would have come alive again.

Related Characters: The Postmaster
Related Symbols: Poetry
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

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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The Postmaster Character Timeline in The Postmaster

The timeline below shows where the character The Postmaster 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
Urban and Rural Life Theme Icon
The postmaster , a young man from Calcutta, earns his first job working at a post office... (full context)
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
Urban and Rural Life Theme Icon
The postmaster has little work to do in Ulapur, and he sometimes spends his free time writing... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Because his salary is low, the postmaster has to cook his own meals, though he hires an orphaned village girl, Ratan, to... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ratan insists that she must light the kitchen fire, but  the postmaster tells her to get his hookah ready. He then asks if she remembers her mother.... (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 tired to prepare elaborate meals. They have leftovers and chapati for... (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... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...the sun is shining on the wet grass and leaves, and bird sounds are audible, the postmaster sits outside and watches the leaves and the clouds left over from rain. He longs... (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... (full context)
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...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, she enters his room... (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... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Urban and Rural Life Theme Icon
Finally, the postmaster feels recovered, though he is now thin and weak. He decides that he has to... (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... (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... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
The postmaster awakens at dawn the next day and sees that his bath-water (which he has brought... (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... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
The postmaster prepares to leave as his replacement arrives. He calls for Ratan one last time and... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
The postmaster sighs and picks up his luggage, preparing to leave by boat. A coolie (or a... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Ratan cannot comfort herself with logic and philosophy in the way that the postmaster can. Instead, she lingers near the post office, weeping and nursing a faint hope that... (full context)