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The Theme of East -West Confrontation in the Novels of Rabindranath Tagore

Dr. Ramesh Kumar Shukla

Assistant Professor & Head

Department of English

M.L.K. P.G.  College Balrampur ,

Uttar Pradesh, India



Rabindranath Tagore (May7, 1868 –August7, 1941) is a man of the versatile genius. He is the first and foremost Indian philosopher, poet, novelist, social reformer, painter and playwright who gained for modern India an everlasting place on the world literary map. His more interesting and precious piece of literature is Gitanjali (1910), which is praised in the foreign countries and also got Nobel Prize, on the same, in November 1913. He is the first non-European who won Nobel Prize for literature. His other notable literary works are The Post Office (1914), The Home and the World (1916), Gora (1910), Char Adhyay (1934) and The Beggar Woman (1877). He is highly influenced with the Upanishads and Buddhism. Moreover India‘s indigenous culture has deep impact so far as the culture identity of the country in its fiction in English novelists. Rabindranath Tagore is also highly accomplished by the same ideology. It is treated as one of the major themes in Indian fiction in English especially during British Empire in India. Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most prominent writers of pre-colonial India who has dealt with the theme of indigenous culture during British period. He has successfully depicted the Indian religion, culture and values in his literary works. There are atavistic images in his novels also. In his novel especially The Home and the World there is revival of India’s indigenous culture as well as the confrontation of the western culture. Here the novelist has shown the East –West encounter through Bimila’s indecisiveness. There is similar conflict in the novel A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Here Mrs. Moore is also in the same situation of the bird in bush. This research paper focuses on the traditional customs of the East which are contrary to the outlook of the West and certainly refers awareness, advancement, modernity and evolution.

 Keywords – Philosopher, Non- European, Culture, Prominent, Confrontation, Evolution   


“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existences”. -  Rabindranath Tagore 



Rabindranath Tagore is a pioneering literary figure. He is highly regarded for his ceaseless innovations in novel, poetry, drama, prose, music and painting. His works include some sixty collections of verse, novels like The Home and the World, Gora, and Four Chapters, dance drama like Shyama, Chandalika and Chitrangada. He believes that nation is almost better than reverence of God and humanity.  

Ranindranath Tagore says-   

“I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and  it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity’’.

 In the novel The Home and the World, the entranced by Sandeep, wizardly with words, Bimla,s  cardinal error  of placing  adoration of the nation above solicitude for humanity only end in  catastrophe.

Tagore is highly sensitive about the complexity of the key characters which he has created in The Home and the World. The easier accessibility of Satyajit Ray’s film version of the novel makes it ever more popular for students to read it in the original or in translation. The privileging of the visual over the textual has led to superficial commentaries on the novel’s take   on the nation. Tagore has drawn the character of Sandip with a deft touch. Sandip’s manipulative guile did not mean that he was entirely avoided of the charisma that buttered the seductive power of nationalism. The words of his speech ` seemed to carry the guest of a   storm   and his boldness knew no limits.  Sandip is an intensely argumentative as Gora. His sharp mind shone in all its brilliance. Sandip lost his power over her.

The theme of East -West confrontation in the novel The Home and the World

            Tagore is the author of various talents. The national consciousness is reflected everywhere in his literary works. His ability of presenting these themes is much impressive. He has depicted the indigenous culture in his novel The Home and the World. There is East-West conflict in the novel about which the novelist was very curious in those (British Reign) days.

Swapan Majumdar says:

“During his formative years Rabindranath Tagore was an ardent observer of the debate on the relevant issues and themes of the time in which his elders took part. The East-West often featured in these controversies and discussions”

            In The Home and the World the novelist has shown a dynamic interaction between Indian and western model of thought. In fact, the novel is the depiction of the conflict which Tagore himself has realized within his own mind and soul. There are descriptions of two ideals, in which one is pertaining of the culture of the west and other is the revolt against the culture. Tagore uses his real life experiences and opinions to form this novel. There is also exploration of love, modernity, role of women and the concept of inside home and outside world except nationalism. The author’s use of paradoxes like home, world, politics, love tradition and modernity, make the novel allegorical.

            The central theme of the novel The Home and the World is love, nationalism and traditions of the society. The novel is about Swadeshi movement in Bengal in 1905. It played an important role in freedom of our country. The novel portraits about the conflict between tradition and modernity, conjugal love and passionate love, conservative and modern women, traditional, personal and political aspects.

            The story of the novel The Home and the World revolves around Nikhil, a landlord of progressive mind and supporter of western ideals. He is husband of Bimla. He is calm and sweet by temperament. Although he is supporter of Swadeshi movement but he is follower of western thoughts also. He supports his wife Bimla at each and every step. Bimla is not pretty  at all. But Nikhil has compassion for the poor. So he married Bimla. He does everything to make her able to stand before the world. He educated her. He also provides her all opportunities to  go out of the door. He believes in virtues of humankind rather than external beauty. For Nikhil physical beauty is only time being but true beauty is merely virtue. Bimla appears like an ordinary girl. She is unaware of outer world. It is Nikhil who gives her full support to stand in the world by giving her moral and psychological strength, education, culture and sophistication. He transformed her into a self- conscious and valuable woman. He desires to bring his wife out of the narrow home to the wide world. He is generous and broad minded land owner.

Benjamin says: 

“I understand that Tagore adopted allegory to shape his narrative because it allowed him to illustrate in a didactic as well as scenic manner. The idea of nationalism that so much troubled him that particular conjecture in the history of Bengal and India. However, lacking the epistemological freedom implied in the symbol, allegory, led Tagore to illustrate this conflict in a dialectical rather than ideological manner that cancelled other perspectives on the issue…”

In The Home and the World Rabindranath Tagore has shown the beginning of a dynamic interaction between Indian and Western models of thought. Here, Nikhil is sensible. He is against brutality. But Sandip is resolute in resisting anything and everything that comes between him and his aim. Although, Nikhil and Sandeep belong to the same surroundings and nation but they are different in their ideologies.

Swapan Majumdar says:

“During his formative years Rabindranath Tagore was an ardent observer of the debate on the relevant issues and themes of the time in which his elders took part. The East-West often featured in these controversies and discussions”

In The Home and the World Bimla is central figure of the novel. She is wife of Nikhil. Nikhil wants to see her as a modern and progressive woman. In the beginning she has full loyalty in her husband (Nikhil). She remains faithful to her husband.

Bimla says-

“ I distinctly remember after my marriage, when, early in the morning, I would cautiously and silently get up and take the dust of my husband's feet without waking him, how at such moments I could feel the vermilion mark upon my forehead shining out like the morning star.”    

Further Bimla says-

“It was my woman's heart, which must worship in order to love.”

Moreover, like an Indian God fearing woman she fears God. She has faith in Indian culture, tradition and civilization. Bimla’s love for her husband is limitless.  But when Sandip enters in her life as a magnetic leader as well as friend of her husband, Nikhil. Her thought, ideology, principle and behavior all are totally changed. She has shifted her love from Nikhil to Sandip, in the same way as Raina shifted her love from Sergius towards Bluntschli in Arms and the Man.

  There arises a great change in traditional behavior of Bimla. She falls in love with Sandip. She can’t remain herself as a traditional house wife. Her extra marital affair with Sandip has not only destroyed her happy married life with her husband (Nikhil) but also shows her rejection of the whole ethos of the Hindu culture and mythology. She never likes any hindrance, while she desires to meet Sandip. She changes her life style of the traditional ways of the Indian Household to become a modern and self dependent woman. There is a glimpse of a complete modern break with the Hindu code by a woman dispirited and disgusted at the hollowness of its pretensions. It shows that modern women should not worship their husband as deity.

            Tagore allegorizes the conflict of the nation. Nikhil wants to bring Bimla out of Purdah into the world, at the time of the Swadeshi movement. He wants her to become her own independent self.

Barathi Ray says:

“The new woman was to be an educated and brave wife as an appropriate partner of an English-educated nationalist man able to run an efficient and orderly home like her Western counterpart, be high-minded and spiritual like the women of the golden age (...) If the model was absurd, and inimitable, and indeed full of contradictions, no one was bothered. That was the new woman the nation needed, and it was women’s duty to live up to it.”

In   The Home and the World Tagore expresses in a didactic manner, at the time when Bimla refuses her husband’s critique of the Swadeshi. She falls in love with Sandip and becomes identified by his ideals. Nikhil wants Bimla to make her own choice freely. Moreover, Sandeep worships her as the Goddess of Bengal. Bimla’s infatuation with Sandip stands in the novel for Bengal’s infatuation with Swadeshi.

Nikhil says:

“I had hoped that when Bimala found herself free in the outer world she would be rescued from her infatuation for tyranny. But now I feel sure that this infatuation is deep down in her nature. She is quite angry with me because I am not running amuck crying Bande Mataram (...) For that matter, I have become unpopular with all my countrymen because I have not joined them in their carousals.”

In The Home and the World, Sandip is a brave and confident nationalist. He is against foreign clothes. But as a leader he betrayed Bimla. After taking all her money and jewelry, he left and ran away.

This shows that Bimla is aware of selfless love of her husband (Nikhil). She is proud of him. Nikhil is a loyal, faithful and ideal husband who always and by all means supports Bimla to gain freedom from her conventional thoughts. But he is quite innocent about the wrong intention of Bimla and Sandip. Tagore describes here clearly about betrayal of a faithful and trustworthy wife like Bimla. He raises a genuine question regardin marital relation and conjugal love by portraying a story of Nikhil, Bimla and Sandip. Tagore has shown the impact of good and evil on this world. Nikhil represents goodness and Sandip represents evil of the world. Nikhil marries with Bimla. He gives her a sound status in the society. He wants to develop moral of a husband and friend both. But he was unable to understand his own wife Bimla and his bosom friend Sandip. He is deceived by Bimla.

It is said

            “Triya Charitrum Purusasya bhagam Daivo na janami kuto Manusya”       

Bimla doesn’t care for her husband’s feelings. She is peeping the heart of Sandip. She feels guilty. She wants to say sorry to Nikhil. But she never has such appropriate time. Nikhil was injured in the riots of the mobs. Bimla started crying after looking at him on the stretcher.

            Thus, The Home and the World ends with such conclusion that make us think deeply about not only love but loyalty and the clash between tradition and modern ideas also. At last Bimla realizes her disloyalty for her husband (Nikhil) and her excessive attraction towards Sandip. Her trust towards Sandeep proved destructive by all means.

            Here, Tagore preaches us that the journey of self discovering and improving the world is not easy task.  We must think and care for whom, who cares for us. The Home and the World is a timeless story which teaches us to think about our relationship, the impact of beliefs and our loyalty for others. The story explores about the personal decision, self-identity, gender roles and our overall behavior with family, society and countrymen.

The theme of East -West confrontation in the novel Gora

            Gora is a novel written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1910. There is description of man’s inner conflict because he is trying to distinguish between right and wrong. This novel is the portrayal of the arguments of philosophy which leads a person to a struggle when he follows the truth .Gora is the representation of an orphan boy, like the ordinary, grew as a humble, educated, Bengali gentleman. He is rational, intelligent humble and brilliant. He is an orthodox Hindu. He is a strict follower of all the customs and beliefs of Hindus. He is follower of Brahmo Samaj.

When the British ridicule the Indian culture harshly, Gora realized that he should very first emphasize for driving the British out of India. He wants unite all the people of India on the basis of Hinduism. Because Hindu culture has faith in the concept of ‘oneness of all’. After growing up, Gora becomes a fanatic Hindu. To keep a vigil over his intimate friend Binoy, who frequently visits the house of Brahmo girls, Suchitra and Lalita, Gora also uses to their homes. Here is in an emotional conflict Parallel to the love parable of Gora and Suchitra Binoy’s love for Lalita is also developed. Anandamoyi is a representative of Hindus and Paresh Babu is representative of Brahmos.

            Gora uses his caste and religion as a righteous entity to establish his identity. He accepts his religion as a cult and his faith as a ritual to denote his break with the West. Gora is an exploration of a young man’s search for harmony and unity of his country. His faith in caste is crumbling. He is no longer able to dismiss his interest in Suchitra. Gora has been gradually moving towards a more realistic understanding of the social bondage of the community. Gora realizes that society offers no help to a man at the time of his misfortune it merely afflicts him with penalties and humbles him to the dust.

Gora says,

“Mother, you are my mother! The whom I have been wandering about in search of was all the time sitting in my room at home. You have no caste, you make no distinctions, and you have no hatred – you are only image of our welfare! It is you who are India.”

Gora has full faith in Hinduism and India. At first, it seems that Gora and Suchitra will never be married. But as soon as the mystery of Gora’s birth is revealed to him. He comes to know that he is not a Hindu, the effect is astonishing. His perception about himself has been totally changed. The rest of the character is of meager importance.

The theme of East -West confrontation in the novel Char Adhyay

Char Adhyay (Four Chapters) is written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1934. It is last political novel by Gurudev . There is and underlying preoccupation about the campus of patriotism and legitimacy of violence. The novelist uses a triangulated relationship. The central figure of the novel is Ela. She is a modern woman. She looks for engagement for her existence. She has a strong sense of justice. Misfortunately she has lost her parents. So she grew up, under kind guidance of her uncle and aunt. She meets Indranath a charismatic man and disappointed scientist. But at the same time has romantic attachment with Atindranath who is also called Atin or Anta. In Four Chapters the novelist describes about the new modern woman in all her complexity and confusion. Ela is the embodiment of such modern women who are torn between political zeal and romantic passion. Ela wants to “Publicize the increase in women’s rights in the modern age” she has great devotion for Atin.

Ela says,

“you are great. I can see your brilliance, dazzling as a flash of lightining.”

Ela realizes the entrapment of women’s biology.

In this way Rabindranath Tagore in his novels like, The Home and the World, Gora and Four Chapters, there is the theme of confrontation between East and West. The structure pattern of the book is therefore more in the nature of process of reconciliation and adjustment of opposites, not in the nature of final solutions but in the discovery of truth as a way of life. The journey towards truth of life is never easy. Tagore played a leading role in the Swadeshi movement. He filled the whole of our literary horizon with his personality. He represented the glimpse of the warm soul of India in his literary works.  

“In the sky, there is no distinction out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”

Works Cited

Tagore, Rabindranath. The Home and the World. Penguin India, 2005.

Bose, Sugata.  “Introduction”.  Nationalism & Home and The World. Rabindranath Tagore. Penguin India, 2021.

Tagore web – The Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore. (n.d)

Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi. The Mahatma and the Poet. National Bank Trust India, 1997

Quayum, Mohammad A. Tagore, Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism: Perceptions, Contestations and Contemporary Rrelevance. Routledge India, 2021.

 Subarmaniam, Lakshami, and Rajat Kanta Roy. “Rabindranath Tagore and Crisis of Identity in Colonial India”. Rabindranath Tagore and Challenges of Today, edited by Bhudeb Chaudhuri and K.G. Subramanyan. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988.

Bhattacharya, Bhabani.  Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1961: A Centenary Volume. Sahitya Akademi, 2010.

Anitha S.Kumar, Tagore the Novel is study of Gora and The Wreck pp, 56. 

Kumar, Anitha S. “Tagore the Novel is study of Gora and The Wreck.” pp, 56.