The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore: Significance of the Title

The title of the book The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore can be interpreted at various levels. At one level it tells about the struggle of Bimala in choosing between her ‘home’ behind the purdah, the outside ‘world’ that her husband Nikhil has introduced her to. Moreover, Bimala is also torn between being a faithful wife of Nikhil who is her ‘home’, and Sandip her attraction and newly found love representing the outside ‘world’. At some deeper into the novel, however,  the title symbolizes the two ideologies Bimala must choose between - Nikhil’s pragmatism that represents the ‘home’ and Sandip’s idealism that represents the ‘world’.

It is due to Nikhil’s exertion that Bimala crosses the threshold of her secluded, sheltered ‘zenana’existence behind the purdah and enters the outside world. Ironically, this crossing of the threshold coincides Sandip’s entrance into their lives; proving, as Nikhil observed, ‘if you will not go to the world, the world will come to you’. It was at the sight of Sandip that Bimala, drawn to his nationalistic fervour, makes the choice between staying inside her ‘home’ and meeting him in the outside ‘world’, and chooses the latter.

Smitten by Sandip's fiery speeches and his vision of her as the ‘Queen Bee’ as contrasted with her own husband Nikhil's ostensibly indifferent attitude towards the freedom struggle, Bimala finds herself increasingly attracted to Sandip. Nikhil is the man of her home; Sandip represents to her the outside world, not only because he is her link to the nation, her source of information to all that is happening outside her home in the country, but also because he is an outsider who embodies all the vitality and passion that she supposes the outside world to contain but that has been absent from her own domestic life. She emotionally trips, vacillates between Sandip and her husband, and decides to take side with Sandip until she returnes home bruised and humiliated but with a more mature understanding of both Nikhil, her Home, and Sandip, the World.

Through the love-triangle, Tagore explores the war between idealism and pragmatism inside Bimala’s mind and extends its sphere of influence to encompass the issues dividing India during those times of strife and struggle through the depiction of the revolution and the Swadeshi movement.

Nikhil, who was keen on social reform but repulsed by nationalism, gradually loses the esteem of his spirited wife, Bimala, because of his failure to be enthusiastic about anti-British agitations, which she sees as a lack of patriotic commitment. However, despite seeing clearly that she is unimpressed by his worldview, he refuses to compromise his principles and persists in his quiet belief in humanism over nationalism .This measured stance of her husband towards politics fails to win Bimala’s approval.

Unconvinced by this non-flamboyant, practical approach towards freedom and fascinated by the illusive utopia presented to her by Sandip, Bimala is torn between the two extremes. Her choice stands between the inclusive humanism practiced in her Home and the militant nationalism followed by the World. She wavers towards the latter, taken in by the goddess image Sandip created of her and the power he seems to impart in her every time he speaks. But in the end, when Sandip isexposed, her dreams are shattered and reality strike and she comes back to her husband “hesitatingly, barefoot, with a white shawl over her head”, back to the ‘home’ she has abandoned and neglected.

It is well known that Tagore, after a brief dip into the Swadeshi movement, became disillusioned with nationalism and condemned it on the grounds that ardent nationalism, in the process of uniting all Hindus, would end up alienating other religions and nationalities and promoting hatred and exclusivity that would break the country apart and destroy people’s humanism. In that context, the title of the novel can be interpreted as an appeal to strive towards global unity and shun the politics of nationalism. There are several plot points in the novel – such as the harassment of Miss Gilby, and the alienation and consequent uprising of the Muslim traders - that can be considered evidence of this. Thus, through Nikhil, who was Tagore’s spokesperson and his counterpart in many ways, Tagore tried to explain his dream of his ‘home’ coexisting in harmony and mutual friendship with the ‘world’.

Last modified: Monday, 17 July 2017, 12:09 PM