The Postmaster

by

Rabindranath Tagore

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Water Symbol Analysis

Water Symbol Icon

Water—in the form of rain, river water, tears, and more—pervades Ulapur, the rural village depicted in Tagore’s story. In the second paragraph of the story, Tagore reveals that the postmaster, a recent transplant, is “a fish out of water” in Ulapur and is greatly affected by both the rain-washed landscape of the village and the unending monsoons during the month of Sraban, when he arrives. Rain seems to represent both renewal and confinement for the postmaster. As a “fish out of water,” he yearns to return to water and thus observes its presence in the natural world with awe and appreciation. Ulapur’s “rain-washed leaves quivering” and the “layers of sun-whitened, broken-up clouds left over from the rain” inspire the postmaster, a would-be poet, who desires to describe these natural phenomena in poetry and thus discover a renewed sense of spiritual harmony in the village, where he has previously felt lonely and isolated. At the same time, however, the “continuous” rain causes “ditches, pits, and channels” in the village to overflow, and it becomes impossible to travel around on foot. The postmaster becomes “ill and miserable … in this isolated place, the rain pouring down,” unable to move freely through the town and overwhelmed by the destructive floods. Water ultimately becomes a source of emotional distress instead of inspiration for the postmaster, and it contributes to the sense of confinement and isolation he experiences in the village.

At the end of the story, however, water becomes a symbol of both confinement and renewal, resolving tension between these two conflicting emotions. When the postmaster sets sail from Ulapur, the “swollen flood-waters of the river … heave like the Earth’s brimming tears,” mirroring Ratan’s own tears and emotional distress at the postmaster’s departure. Yet by “heaving” the boat away, the flood-waters are transporting the postmaster toward new horizons and a happier, less confining life outside of Ulapur. Thus, in “The Postmaster,” water is a natural object that represents persistent conflict between hope and renewal, misery and confinement.

Water Quotes in The Postmaster

The The Postmaster quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. 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:

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:

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:
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Water Symbol Timeline in The Postmaster

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water 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
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...audible, the postmaster sits outside and watches the leaves and the clouds left over from rain. He longs for a romantic companion, and he begins to think that the sound of... (full context)
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
During the month of Sraban, the rain is endless, creating overflow in ditches and channels in the village. It becomes impossible to... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
...returning home for good. Neither Ratan nor the postmaster can speak. A lamp flickers, and rain water dribbles through a hole in the roof of the hut. Ratan goes out to... (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 in everyday from the river in a bucket) has been laid... (full context)
Gender, Class, and Inequality Theme Icon
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Theme Icon
...suddenly wishes to return to her. However, the boat has departed, borne away on swollen flood-waters, and the postmaster has left Ulapur behind. He reflects on the notion that life involves... (full context)