Tagore’s story derives much of its emotional depth from lush, elaborate depictions of the natural world, which becomes a source of both melancholy and artistic inspiration for the postmaster (who, like Tagore himself, writes poetry). The rural Bengal landscape, often soaked with rain, seems to symbolize the postmaster’s own sense of confinement in the village. Yet the landscape is equally instilled with intense emotion and a sense of the sublime. While the postmaster seems moved by the natural world, nature also drives him out: the floods that persist in Ulapur prompt his illness, which ultimately spurs him to leave the village. Tagore seems to be suggesting that the powerful natural world is capable of influencing those who come into contact with it—for better or for worse.
At first, the postmaster finds Ulapur radiant. In his poetry, he reflects on “the leaves trembling in the trees” and “the clouds in the sky,” attempting to express the “bliss” to be experienced by observing nature. Yet he also feels that he would “come alive again” if “a genie out of an Arab table” would “come and cut down all the leafy trees overnight,” make “a road,” and block “out the sky with rows of tall buildings”—that is, if a “genie” were to replace Ulapur’s natural scenery with the fittings of urban life. In other words, to the postmaster, the natural world is only attractive to an extent. It is also jarringly unfamiliar, since he is used to Calcutta, a city populated by “tall buildings” and “roads.” Thus, the postmaster’s first impression of Ulapur is split; he is both captivated by its powerful beauty and profoundly disturbed by its rural nature.
Furthermore, the postmaster begins to realize that aspects of Ulapur’s landscape are imbued with intense melancholy. On one lonely afternoon, he observes that “Earth’s breath,” “hot with fatigue,” brushes against his skin, while a “persistent bird” cries out “monotonously,” “making repeated and pathetic appeals at Nature’s midday durbar.” These pessimistic visions reflect the postmaster’s own pessimistic outlook on humanity and love, made all the more extreme by his loneliness in the village. He observes these natural visions and begins to feel that the bird’s “monotonous cry” is echoing his own longing for a “human object for the heart’s most intimate affections”—a desire he feels he may never be able to fulfill, given his own isolation. The natural world is not only unfamiliar to the postmaster, but also representative of his solitude, misery, and confinement in Ulapur, where he is without family, friendship, or the material comforts of Calcutta.
Prompted by the passionate feelings of melancholy he experiences while observing nature, the postmaster turns to Ratan, who in many ways becomes the “human object” and “close companion” he desires as they share meals and conversation. The postmaster is able to express himself to Ratan, working through his loneliness by sharing stories of his childhood and providing her with a skill—reading—that is familiar to him from his upbringing in Calcutta. Despite the growing intimacy between Ratan and the postmaster, though, Ulapur’s unending, torrential monsoons become too much for the postmaster to bear. Tagore’s narrator notes that the postmaster feels “in need of comfort, ill and miserable as he was, in this isolated place, the rain pouring down,” and although Ratan provides comfort, the postmaster ultimately decides that the “unhealthiness” of Ulapur—its extreme weather—constitutes grounds for a transfer. Even though the postmaster has experienced closeness with another human, the influence of the natural world overpowers this intimacy and creates further despair for him.
By the end of the story, all traces of the “bliss” the postmaster previously felt while observing nature (and transforming it into poetry) have disappeared, replaced by the “swollen,” “fiercely” flowing river that bears the postmaster, aboard a boat, away from Ulapur. In the end, nature (in the form of the river) is cruel, relentless, and powerful. Though the postmaster wishes briefly to return to Ulapur and Ratan, he ultimately allows himself to be transported away on the river’s current. The natural world is too intense for the postmaster to resist, despite moments of unity, intimacy, and emotional expression with Ratan: nature is both beautiful and melancholic, and it rivals the human world in strength.
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World ThemeTracker
Melancholy and the Sublime Natural World Quotes in The Postmaster
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.
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?”