The Home and the World Summary and Study Guide

Rabindranath Tagore

The Home and the World

  • 34-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by a published author with a degree in English Literature
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The Home and the World Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 34-page guide for “The Home and the World” by Rabindranath Tagore includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Nationalism and The Roles of Men and Women.

Plot Summary

Early in the 20th century, British domination of India made for an unstable political dynamic. In an effort to restore stability to the region, British leaders called for Bengal to be divided along religious lines between Hindus and Muslims. Aside from the political motivation, British leaders also had economic reasons for dividing Bengal: doing so would increase the demand for British exports by taking markets away from native Indian merchants. The result of such changes was widespread discontent among the native population, embodied in the Swadeshi movement, a resistance movement among natives of Bengal, which called for, among other forms of protest, the boycott of British goods.

This is the backdrop for Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World, which consists of 26 chapters, each of which is told from the point of view of one of the novel’s three central characters: Bimala; her husband, Nikhil; and Sandip, a leader within the Swadeshi movement. By presenting the story from three different perspectives, Tagore reflects the lack of social unity and political organization characteristic of Bengal and of India at the time the story takes place and gives insight into the diversity of perspectives held about the future direction of India. Political unrest in Bengal during the era of Swadeshi would lead to the undermining of social norms that had been dominant in the region for centuries. Establishing would thus mean that such norms would have to be adjusted or replaced by ones better suited to current conditions. Each of the main characters represents a different perspective on what sorts of values and norms should be adopted.

Perhaps the central question taken up in The Home and the World concerns reconciling a duty to help preserve national/social interests with a commitment honoring one’s domestic/personal responsibilities. Defending India’s autonomy against British encroachment would require natives to take part in political activities such as rallies and demonstrations outside of the home, and thus taking on responsibilities in addition to, and perhaps at odds with, traditional domestic responsibilities. The conflict is dramatized in the novel as Bimala, the main character, as she becomes swept up in the fervor of the Swadeshi resistance, is forced to question her loyalty to Nikhil, her husband — to whom she owes her undying obedience, according to traditional Indian social norms.

Bimala’s doubts about her marriage do not arise spontaneously, but rather are set in motion, somewhat surprisingly, by her husband Nikhil. Influenced by Enlightenment ideals, Nikhil rejects the traditional Indian notion that a woman’s place is in the home and that her duty is to her husband. To the contrary, Nikhil desires Bimala to have a life outside of the home – for example, as a participant in Swadeshi rallies — and to have the freedom to choose her own path in life.  To that end, Nikhil introduces Bimala to Sandip, a leader within the Swadeshi movement. Nikhil’s hope is that meeting Sandip will stir up enthusiasm in Bimala to participate in activities sponsored by the Swadeshi.

Nikhil’s plan succeeds perhaps too well: Not only does Sandip inspire Bimala with passion for the Swadeshi movement; he also arouses her romantic interest. Bimala’s affections are stirred by the intensity of Sandip’s devotion to the movement, which seems to go far beyond that of her husband. While both Nikhil and Sandip support the Swadeshi movement, Nikhil is committed to peaceful resistance, whereas Sandip is willing to advance the cause by any means necessary. But as will be revealed later on in the novel, Sandip’s fanatic support of the Swadeshi movement, despite appearances, may not necessarily imply his complete dedication to the ideals that the movement seeks to promote.

The passion that Sandip exhibits, at least superficially, for all things Swadeshi is, however, enough to capture Bimala’s interest. Wishing to get to know him better, Bimala invites Sandip to visit Nikhil’s estate. During Sandip’s visit, the feelings of affection between Sandip and Bimala grow even stronger, and Sandip announces that he will use Nikhil’s estate as his new center of operations. Bimala finds herself drawn more and more towards Sandip and drifting further and further apart from Nikhil. This shift in Bimala’s devotion is clearly evident when Bimala, fulfilling a request from Sandip, steals a large sum of money from Nikhil’s safe, money that Sandip plans to use to finance Swadeshi activities.

But Bimala is soon overcome with guilt over what she has done and arranges to repay the stolen money, which she will raise by selling her jewels. Nikhil is understandably distressed about Bimala’s betrayal and romantic involvement with Sandip, but Nikhil stands by his principles: he forgives Bimala for the theft and tells her that she is free to follow her heart, even if that means leaving Nikhil. Nikhil’s gesture so moves Bimala that she comes to realize that he, and not Sandip, is the one she really loves.

In the concluding chapters of the novel, Nikhil and Sandip demonstrate their true colors. After a riot breaks out in Bengal, only Nikhil has the bravery and dedication to the furtherance of the Swadeshi movement to put himself in the center of the action in an effort to quell the violence. By contrast, Sandip, upon hearing news of the riot, hides out far away from where the riot is going on, demonstrating that his concern for his own welfare takes priority over…

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