35 pages 1 hour read

Rabindranath Tagore

The Home and the World

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1916

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Summary and Study Guide


The Home and the World is a novel by Rabindranath Tagore, set against the political and logistical nightmares of India’s 20th century caste system. Although the story focuses on the dynamic of a marriage—which shifts when a shadowy outsider enters the lives of the couple—much of the novel reads like a philosophical treatise. There are shifting viewpoints between the characters Bimala, Nikhil, and Sandip, and much of the book comprises their internal and external dialogues as they consider serious issues such as tradition, the roles of men and women in Indian culture, the nature of political change, the occasional need for violence in political activism, and other rhetorical exercises such as the weighing of the public good.

As the novel begins, Bimala is happy with her life. She has married a good, kind man who is educated and generous. She is content to worship him and accept his support in all things. What she does not feel, however, is excitement. When the political firebrand Sandip begins making speeches in their village, she is infatuated by his words, but also stirred by some of his political ideas. She thinks of him constantly. Sandip, who is only interested in pursuing his own desires and climbing the social strata, does nothing to discourage her interest in him.

Her husband, Nikhil, sees what is happening, but is unwilling to intervene. Nikhil believes that, if one is committed to living morally and thoughtfully, one can accept whatever arises. He is sad that he feels like a burden to Bimala, but is determined to let her make her own choices.

Bimala’s choices lead her to steal from Nikhil to raise money for Sandip’s cause, money that he keeps for himself. Overcome with shame at how she has allowed a man who now disgusts her to cause such havoc in her life, Bimala must try to save her marriage, support her country, and recommit herself to living by her conscience, not her passions. As village unrest turns to outbursts of violence, the characters are all changed by the decisions they must make.

Published in 1916, The Home and the World is a critically celebrated work with themes that its author knows intimately. The novel is a striking example of the power of art (and artifice) to edify—or destroy—causes, relationships, and possibly an entire country.