One of the most remarkable features of Rabindranath Tagore’s play The Post Office is the use of symbolism. Tagore uses different phrases, words, characters symbolically. The reader and the audience need to interpret them for their underlying significance. Tagore himself gave an interpretation of The Post Office.
Amal’s confinement to the small room symbolises the human soul imprisoned in the mortal body. His soul has received the call of the open road where there is light and beauty of the world beyond but it is denied to his soul, the imprisoning confines of the body. The only way to secure freedom of the soul is through death, as death is said to be the emancipation of spirit. Therefore the doors and windows of the room are opened on the arrival of the king’s physician. The opening of the gate by the king’s physician is the opening of the human mind to the nature of experience. Amal finds some comfort in his soul as death brings him spiritual freedom.
The symbol of the soul longing for eternity and the relationship between the Finite and the Infinite and other symbols of the play can be ascribed to the influence of the Upanishads and certain aspects of Vaishnavism. The ideas that the infinite can only be understood in close relationship to the Finite, that man is a “finite-infinite” being conscious of his finitude only through the presence of an infinite nature within him are some of them. Soul yearns for eternity. God, too, sets out to meet the Soul. Amal’s prayer for the king’s letter is answered by the king who sends his royal physician. “I can feel his coming nearer and my heart becomes glad” says Amal.
The Post Office itself becomes a symbol of the universe, the king stands for God, Postmen are the six seasons representing the visible nature. The post office is a sort of bridge between the known and the unknown. The king's letter is a suggestive symbol .It comes from a distant, mysterious world bringing a message from someone whom we hold very dear. It is an invitation to leave the world of pain and enter into the world of eternal bliss. The letter is the message of eternity, the message calling us to reach God. The Blank Slip of paper symbolises the message of God which one is free to interpret according to one’s own lights. The Post Office is the place where messages are received and delivered and where there is ample scope for communication.
Time is an essential symbol, played by the watchman. We are bound by time, but we can conquer it. It calls for great suffering and pain. Amal's deliverance suggests the note. When Amal expresses doubts whether his doctor will let him out, the Watchman tells him that one greater than he comes and lets us free.
The last scene is also symbolic. It shows sleep, death and silence, but all suffused with an aura of Great Liberation. Sleep comes softly. The lamp is to be blown out. Only the starlight is to be let in. Starlight is to be contrasted with the light of the oil lamp. The light of the lamp can help us
to see only physical things, but the light of the stars gives its vision of the Great Beyond. The symbolism of the last line of the play is also to be noted. Sudha tells the Royal Physician to tell dying Amal: “Tell him Sudha has not forgotten him.” Sudha, the character, is a symbol of love and affection. Sudha means nectar. The symbolic meaning, then, would be that Amal is not dead, that he has with him Sudha, the drink of immortality. It is only the body that dies, that the soul is immortal.
The Post Office is written in a style closely related to the symbolist drama that flourished in Europe at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This form of drama uses limited action to suggest the larger inexpressible forces to which its characters are subject. What holds our attention in The Post Office is the transformation of Amal. As he grows physically weaker he grows spiritually stronger, and, in the exquisite passage at the end, as he falls into an eternal sleep, we experience the world as his dream.