Major Themes of Rabindranath Tagore’s The Post Office:
Tagore’s The Post Office has been internationally the most popular play of Tagore. It was successfully staged in different countries at different times. On the surface level, the play represents the eagerness of Amal, a sick child kept confined in a room, to participate in the activity of life around him. But beyond this apparent simplicity lies its profound meaning. Dr. Iyenger considers it to be “(o)ne of the most deeply significant of Tagore’s play which a child could read and understand, thought it might intrigue the grown ups.” In deeper level, it has been read as an allegory of soul seeking what lies beyond. Like Tagore’s another symbolic play The King of the Dark Chamber, it presents human spirit reaching it liberation through a communication beyond the ken of human recognition. W.B Yeats lays emphasis on the deliverance as the theme of the play. The deliverance which the child discovers in death naturally comes at the moment when one reaches beyond his personal ego and is able to say, “all my work is thine.”
Amal is an orphan child adopted by Madhav. But he suffers from a serious disease. According to the advice of the village doctor, he is not allowed to go out in open-air as it may be detrimental to his health. So he is kept confined in room with utmost care by Madhav. He is a simple and innocent child with highly sensitive and imaginative mind. Though he is kept confined in room, his imaginative mind leads him to transcend the barrier of the four walls of the room. He sits besides the window and makes friends with the passer-by, imparting to each a new zest for life. Thus the Dairyman, Watchman, Headsman, Sudha and the village boys become his friends. He has a simple, innocent, highly imaginative and extraordinary inquisitive mind. He says to Madhav: “See that far-away from our window – I often long to go beyond those hills and right away.” His highly imaginative mind leads him to draw a mental picture of the Dairyman’s village without actually seeing it. He gives a compelling picture of the Dairyman’s village and the Dairyman is surprised to hear it: “Amal: Never. But I seem to remember having seen it. Your village is under some very old big trees, just by the side of the red road – isn’t that so?” With simple and innocent mind, he believes Gaffers tale of the Parrot’s Isle. He also believes in Watchman’s assurance that one day he will receive the king’s letter and he waits in anxious anticipation for the King’s letter.
In Act II Amal’s physical condition deteriorate. None sees any hope of his survival. Headman mocks him giving him a blank letter. But at last the king’s Herald and the King’s Physician come. Lastly Amal dies. Thus the play deals with Amal’s tragic story of suffering and pain on the surface level. But a deeper analysis will reveal that Amal’s death is not at all a tragic one. Instead it is seen as union between human soul and the Supreme Being. Amal is an innocent boy who is tired of the suffering of his life. Therefore he is eager for deliverance from this earthly existence. It is an invitation to leave this world of pain and suffering and enter the world of eternal bliss. At the end of the play Amal says to the State’s Physician: “I feel very well, Doctor, very well. All pain is gone. How fresh and open! I can see all the stars now twinkling from the other side of the dark.”
Each character, like Amal, has a significant role to play in the inner drama of the soul waiting for deliverance. Watchman symbolizes time. That time is most powerful and wants for none is clearly stated by him: “Watchman: My gong sounds to tell people, Time waits for none but goes on forever.” Thus behind the apparent simplicity of the dialogue, deeper and profound meaning continues to flicker. Sudha who gathers flowers stands for sweetness and grace. Madhav solicits like a common man of prosperity. The Physician symbolizes bookish knowledge that prevents man to achieve wisdom and true knowledge. Even the wicked village Headman has his place in the rich drama of life standing for his place in the rich drama of life standing for his obtrusive authority. Amal alone is an angelic creature, apparently passive but highly creative through his imaginative perception. The play is a series of dialogue but each dialogue vivrates with meaning.
The play has a neat classical structure with a clear cut unity of place and action. But some critics have raised question about death of Amal and the ending of the play. Thompson has considered the ending melodramatic. K.R. Srinivasa Iyenger is of the opinion that “(T)he physical death of Amal is thus not logically necessary to the story.” The king of the Dark Chamber is about a woman with a sick soul. The king visits the dark chamber of the queen’s heart and thus everything is resolved. But in the present play Amal is a boy with sick body. So Iyenger rightly questions, “If Amal dies in the end, how do the king’s herald, king’s physician and the king come into the picture?” The deus ex machina can be justified only if the natural order is reversed and the child recovers and lives as he wanted to as one of king’s postman.
Whatever one may say about the uncertainty and the mystery in which the play ends, it makes it dramatically more effective and artistically more appealing. The Post Office thus remains “beautifully, touching, of one of texture of simplicity throughout and within its limit an almost perfect piece of art."