The title of Rabindranath Tagore’s play The Post Office is highly significant – thematically, as well as, symbolically. It provides an emotional centre around which the main action of the play emerges. The symbolic significance of the post office is very much complex, and works on several levels in different parts of the play. S.K. Desai has rightly observed that the post office might be the whole world; the King might be God sending messages of eternity to everyone, according to their capacity for reception, through the visible.
Amal’s obsession with the Post office is the result of a concrete situation. The Post office is just there outside his window and he is inquisitive. Amal inquires about the Post Office to the watchman. It is the King’s, the watchman replies, and on further inquiry tells Amal that one fine day there may be a letter for him in there from the King. After all, the king sends tiny notes to little boys.
The post office is itself a character in the drama because it serves as the link connecting Amal with the far-off regions, which is beyond the river; the mountain and the narrow lane. The letter which Amal expects to receive and the post office are two significant symbols to the play. Amal’s desire to get a letter from the king grows into an obsession in Act II. He has been reconciled to his illness and confinement by the Post office. Gaffar says that the letter is on the way and Amal almost sees him coming with a “lantern in his hand”. The Headman brings a slip of paper and sneeringly tells Amal that it is a letter from the King. He adds that the King would be calling on Amal shortly and that he would like to have puffed rice from Amal. Gaffer speaks mildly and meaningfully and says that the King’s state Physicians would himself come to see Amal. This is followed by the knocking and the state Physician arrives.
On the simplest level, the post office receives and gives letters, which contain information. It was the most popular medium of communication before the invention of the modern electronic media. There have been several poems anxiously awaiting the postman. A man who is looking wistfully towards a post office is a man longing for some information from somebody. Communication is itself a kind of ventilation. Thus, the symbol of post office gives a concrete base to the theme of freedom from all kinds of bondage - physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, which is the leitmotif of this play.
But the post office is not just an ordinary one nor is its postmaster an ordinary one. The postmaster is nobody else but God sending divine messages which are delivered through this Post Office. The man who plays a part in this work hopes to make his life meaningful. Perhaps that is why Amal says he will ask the King: “Make me your postman that I may go about, lantern in hand, delivering your letters from door to door” and “I shall ask him to make me one of his postmen that I may wander far and wide delivering his message from door to door”.
On the whole we understand that the King stands for God and the post office might be the whole universe, and nature, with her seasons. The letter is the message of eternity, the message calling us to reach God. The Blank Slip of paper symbolizes the message of God. The Post Office is the place where messages are received and delivered.
The Post Office operates within the dialectics of home and abroad. In The Post Office home is located within the space of a house and a village where the main character is a sick child whose doctor forbids him to go outside the space of his convalescence because the fresh air would aggravate his disease; as he is able to see the Maharaja’s post office out the window, he longs to receive a letter from the Raja which will eventually happen in a surreal dénouement as the child dies.