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The Rabindranath Tagore novels and stories both subtly and openly take on rigid social norms – often, through their fiery female protagonists.
Rabindranath Tagore, the prolific Bengali writer and philosopher, is known for the beauty of his work, but also because his writings often touched upon bold and challenging subjects and was so ahead of its time.
Focusing his work on the intricacy of human relationships, many of his female protagonists were portrayed as women who took their chances, women who defied the rigid societal norms of the day and fought for their rights in a complex society.
They subtly or openly resisted the prevailing norms around widow remarriage, untouchability, the rigid Varna system, patriarchy and other social evils. Here are 5 of Rabindranath Tagore novels and stories with female heroines who caught the public imagination and have stayed relevant over the decades.
Confined to the four walls of her house, Charulata is a young married woman whose husband doesn’t pay any attention to her. The lonely lady finds solace in her brother-in-law Amal who not only provides love and comfort but brings out her creative side and provides her wings forher dreams. Her strength and courage emerge during a confrontation with her husband regarding her favouring Amal.
Binodini is a widow leading a deprived life because of how poorly widows were treated in those times. Even in those circumstances she doesn’t want to forego her sexual and emotional desires. Through her story, Tagore shows how women’s desires were crushed by society once they became widows. His take on a subject which is still a taboo even today reveals his highly liberal thinking.
The young, fun loving Mrinmoyee has fire brewing within her, which makes her resonate with the modern women. She loves her freedom and when her marriage is arranged, she openly rebels against the norms and challenges them. She is one of Tagore’s most openly rebellious characters.
When the love of her life marries another woman, Hemnalini refuses to marry her brother’s friend. In the same story, another lady Kamala realises that the person she is married to isn’t her husband, so she leaves him and sets off to find the person she was actually married to. In this story, Tagore brings us women who find the courage to stand up for their own rights.
Labanya is a strong-willed, free spirited and highly educated women who begins a relationship with an Oxford returned man, Amit. The logical step is for them to marry but she wonders why it isn’t enough even if there is love. Tagore questions the idea that the institution of marriage is always the ultimate goal of a love affair.
Through all of his work, Tagore strove subtly, to make people aware of women’s emancipation and their rights. His liberal attitude is something that large parts of society lack even today. His stories still resonate with us in current times and makes us see the struggles women used to face in an even more rigid and orthodox society; seeing how these women of an earlier age rebelled against the norms and fought for their own freedom, inspires us to learn and apply it in our lives too.
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