The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore Analysis
The Post Office was composed in 1911. Many of his works during this period are coloured by reflections on death and a mysterious call from the far-off. The Post Office is a symbolic representation of these two currents of thought. Gordon Craing points out that “symbolism is at the root not only of art but also of life.” In a symbolic work there are two planes of meaning: The surface meaning which is directly expressed and the over-reaching meaning which is indirectly suggested. The letter is the most important suggestive symbol in the play. It comes from a distant mysterious land bringing a message from someone whom we hold dear to us. It is a sort of bridge between the known and the unknown. To Amal’s mind the postman is a specially privileged person, for he establishes communion between the distant and near. The Post Office itself provides a realistic background to the symbolism of the letter.
In his preface to The Post Office, W.B. Yeats lays emphasis on “deliverance as the theme of the play”, the deliverance which the child discovers in death. Although The Post Office ends in death and the state physician brings the message of deliverance, a good deal of the drama is also about the earth, about the joys which Amal wants to find, by freeing himself from the limitations imposed by his uncle. It must be remembered that the death of Amal in the play is no physical death but has a symbolic significance. Death represents the end of the spiritual bondage of the soul. Dr. B.C. Chakravorty states that “Deliverance has to be sought and won, not in the other world but in this world, not after death, but in this very life. This is the spiritual realism of Rabindranath Tagore and this is what distinguishes him from other mystic poets and dramatists.”
The story of the play is simple. Amal is an orphan who has been adopted by Madhab. He is sick and Madhab is most anxious to preserve his life. On the advice of the village physician, he has confined Amal within a small room as his contact with the wind and sun is considered harmful. Amal looks at the stream of life in the outer world from the window of his room, and gets fascinated by it. There is post office near Amal’s window and he imagines that the king’s postman will one day bring a letter from him. His physical condition deteriorates and one day he sinks into eternal sleep.
“This little play shows that it is very well constructed and conveys to the right audience an emotion of gentleness and peace”.
In these words, Yeats gave his appreciation of ‘Post Office’. The story embodied in the play–the sickening loneliness telling upon a child of an aristocratic house–presents the child Rabindra’s own experience of bondage and response of a lonely child, while it is also rich in symbolic meanings, and gives full expression in the perception of the Universal Spirit in its immanent form.
According to Prof. D.V.K. Raghavacharyulu:
“The plays of Rabindranath Tagore reveal an organic continuity and a steady advancement in spiritual perception and psychological insight. As Tagore progressed in these qualities, he also achieved a symbolic form of drama which was organically evolved by the inner causation of his art.”
The play The Post Office is read and appreciated by critics in different ways. Some read it for its prose style and unsurpassable language. Many appreciate its dialogue and its touching simplicity. Thompson considers it an explosive satire. There are some who dismiss the longings of the sick boy as mere childish pranks. And yet there are many who find autobiographical element in the play. Vishvanath Naravene in his philosophical study of Rabindranath Tagore points out that Tagore tackles the problem of personality in The Post Office. Dr. Iyengar takes it to be “one of the most deeply significant of Tagore’s plays, which a child could read and understand, though it might intrigue the grown ups.”
Symbolism in literature has double meaning. It uses the known to describe the unknown. In The Post Office both the characters and incidents which belong to the every-day world, suggest something unknown. The symbolism in the play is gentle and touchingly expressed. The Post Office, which is physical and is of the mind and world, may be considered to have been invested with such meaning by Tagore that it stands as symbol for a Temple of God which transmits the prayer of men to God and God’s grace to men.
A Post Office is opened in a little village. Amal, the invalid child is ordered to remain within doors. He has a limitless hunger for life and the Post Office exercises his imagination to the utmost. He sits at the window and makes friends with the passersby touching each with a new zest for life.
It is all an allegory. It is not a drama of action of circumstance: it is permeated with mystical ideas and interpretation of life chiefly. It is about a child with a sick body.
There are only two acts in The Post Office, which has the hour-glass structure. In the first act, the sick child squatting near the window muses and talks to the strangers that pass along then in the second act, the child is in bed and people talk to him or watch him sleep. Dr. Iyengar writes “There are of course two planes of action in the play. On the realistic plane, the child looks out avid for experience and is particularly excited by news about the new Post Office. On the spiritual plane the drama comprises the child’s dream of the Parrot’s Isle, his intense longing for the letter from the king and the coming of the king himself to the child. The sick form at one end, the Parrot’s Isle at the other (Invisible and the great beyond) and in between the Post Office which is both a visible institution and a symbolic clearing house for the transmission of human aspiration in the one direction and the grace of response in the opposite direction. There is a letter and a reply likewise, there is the surge of aspiration from below and the answering response from above.”
Amal personifies man’s longing for free and natural development. This longing is fettered by external trivialities. He represents the pure heart and angelic innocence. Madhab represents the fussy, possessive father while the physician symbolizes the pedantic, narrow-minded, dogmatic fellow. Gaffer is an autumn wind and sun.
From the window, Amal calls on the strangers one by one as they pass by. The curd-seller is grateful to Amal and says, “You have taught me to be happy selling curds.” Like the girl, in Browning’s poem ‘Pippa Passes’, who solves other people’s ticklish problems merely by her simple talking to them. Then the old gypsy man- the watchman comes sounding his songs. Amal complains that the physician keeps him within, for which the watchman replies that “one greater than he comes and lets us free”. He then talks proudly to the Headman. Next comes Sudha, the daughter of a flower-seller. He enters into a pleasant conversation with a promise that she will give him a flower. Afterwards a troop of boys pass in the street. He gives them his own toys and feels happy in observing their play. Soon Amal gets tired and goes to sleep, with a request to them to bring one of king’s postmen to him next day.
In the second Act, the hour-glass reverses its position and the direction of the flow changes. Amal’s condition has become worse on account of exposure to the wind near the window. So he is now advised by Madhav to keep to his bed. Soon Gaffer comes as Fakir, and describes about the Parrot’s Isle as a land of wonders and a haunt of birds, that simply sing and fly. As he informs Amal, that he would build a small cabin for himself among their crowd of nests and pass his days counting the sea waves, Amal wishes that he were a bird.
Then he expresses his desire to marry the curd-seller’s niece with a pair of pearl-drops in her ears and dressed in the lovely red saree. He never likes to become the King’s Postman delivering his letters from door to door. There is a touch of pathos and a symbolic reference when Amal expresses: “I have been feeling a sort of darkness coming over my eyes since the morning. Everything seems like a dream.” To the physician’s query, Amal replies that all pain is gone. Amal is in deep sleep. The Headman and Gaffer are beside him. Sudha, according to her promise, enters with flowers and places them in Amal’s own hands. He gets worse and dies. “The play’s pathos”, observes Thompson, “and easy simplicity will survive even that incongruous ‘King’ at the end.”
Tagore’s play is not a play of action, but a play of feeling, a play of carnival delight and eternal identity. It attempts to synthesize the rhythmic intensity of Western tragedy with the platitude of Indian folk and classical drama, Equally remarkable is the simplicity and naturalness of language, and the restraint exercised by the poet who builds upon a substructure of sentimentalism. As Edward Thompson says:
“In The Post Office only the poet’s skill has avoided catastrophe; if the language had been a shade less perfect in simplicity and naturalness, the play would have sagged downward, into a hopeless mush and welter of sentimentalism.”
The Post Office has a tighter structural unity and its meaning comes to us like a deep dream of peace. As in the physical world action and reaction are equal and opposite, so in the spiritual world too, aspiration and response have alike casual relation.
The Post Office was an especial favourite not only with the author but the readers as well. It is a moving piece of work. It is full of feeling and the handling is delicate. The language is of an unsurpassable naturalness. The dialogue flows in even, unhurried stream. Thompson feels that “The Post Office is beautiful, touching of one texture of simplicity throughout and within its limits an almost perfect piece of art.”
To conclude, in S.K. Desai’s words:
“The Post Office is a genuine symbolic play, yielding more meaning at every successive reading. The play is successful because the naturalistic level is maintained throughout. It is because the play’s roots are in reality, in life, that it can be what it is and at the same time radiate meanings and evoke significant emotions.”