So the traveller, borne on the breast of the swift-flowing river, consoled himself with philosophical reflections […] But Ratan had no philosophy. […] Alas for the foolish human heart!
Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 169.
The narrator describes Ratan from a distance, observing her with generalizations of her being and personality. The narrator also seems to trivialize her existence, emotions, behaviors, etc. as childishly “foolish,” while also using her to convey the emotional sentiments of the story.
“The master said: ‘You need not be anxious about my going away, Ratan; I shall tell my successor to look after you.’ These words were kindly meant, no doubt: but inscrutable are the ways of a woman’s heart!… She burst out weeping…” (Tagore, 167).
Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Mashi, and Other Stories. Macmillan, 1918.
This text makes it seem like the narrator is sympathetic to Ratan, maybe even more so than the postmaster. It is obvious that while Ratan’s heart is inscrutable to the master, the narrator plainly illustrates (and therefore understands) the tenderness with which Ratan has attached herself to her “Dada”. He cannot be replaced in her heart, and the narrator sees the acuteness of her sorrow where the master is simply baffled by it.
“the grief-stricken face of a village girl seemed to represent for him the great unspoken pervading grief of Mother Earth herself. At one time he had an impulse to go back, and bring away along with him that lonesome waif, forsaken of the world” (Tagore 168).
The narrator appears to understand the Postmaster and is privy to his thoughts in a way that is not present for Ratan, likely because she is a girl and the narrator references women as being unfathomable. The descriptions of Ratan might then function as how the Postmaster sees her, revealing how cruel the Postmaster is. In the second translation he also refers to her as “insignificant” and unlikely to ever be married. It is perplexing how he can make Ratan be motherly and designate her the force of “Mother Earth” while still perceiving her as too laughable to bring home with him.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Mashi, and Other Stories. Macmillan, 1918.
And so it came about that the girl would allude to his people as mother, brother, and sister, as if she had known them all her life. In fact, she had a complete picture of them painted in her little heart.
Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 162.
The narrator’s relation to Ratan is a personal one, maintaining a feeling of estranged personal attachment. At times it seems as though the narrator is just the Postmaster retelling this story from his past, although he couldn’t have known the insights of Ratan’s mind. In this passage, the narrator points out the girl’s need for family and belonging, inserting herself into the Postmaster’s family. Not only did she insert herself, but she came to love them, as made obvious by the last sentence.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali. He became very well-known internationally thanks to his collection of translations of some of his own poems into English, Gitanjali (1912; available on HathiTrust). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The two stories we are focusing on were originally written in Bengali. Tagore did not translate them himself, but their English translations date from the period we are studying; Tagore’s fiction thus became part of English-language fiction in the early twentieth century. I have given you the translations from two volumes of short stories put out by the important London publishing house Macmillan, Hungry Stones and Other Stories (1916) and Mashi and Other Stories (1918). If you would like a sample of Tagore’s own style in English fiction, read his own translation of his short story “The Victory,” in Hungry Stones.
We will look at other translations of Tagore in class. Here is a little bit of context on the two stories. Think about why it is that there are so many more terms to annotate in “The Hungry Stones.”
Published in Bengali in 1891. First published in English in a version by Devendranath Mitter in the Calcutta magazine The Modern Review (January 1910); scan available on HathiTrust. The translator of the version in Mashi is, I believe, unknown.
- cicalas (160)
- faquirs of the Baul sect (160)
- “Fakir” is a a more common spelling for this term for a religious mendicant, typically used for Sufi Muslims. The Bāuls (“the mad ones”) are a group of wandering religious singers from Bengal. Tagore was very influenced by their songs, which, like other popular religious traditions in North India, combine Muslim and Hindu elements—and more.
- the alphabet (163)
- That is, the Bengali alphabet. The “double consonants” (164) are the conjunct consonants. In Bengali, as in other Indic scripts, there are special ways of writing two consonants together without a vowel; this is the trickiest part of the alphabet to learn.
- showers of the season (163)
- Śrābaṇ, the second month of the monsoon season (mid-July to mid-August).
The Hungry Stones
Published in Bengali in 1895. It first appeared in the Calcutta Modern Review in February 1910, in a translation by Panna Lal Basu; a scan is available on HathiTrust. This same translation, apparently slightly edited, is the one we have in Hungry Stones. The wonderful contemporary English-language writer Amitav Ghosh has translated this story as “Hungry Stone” in The Essential Tagore, ed. Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011).
- Puja trip (3)
- pūjā is a general term for Hindu worship. The two men are probably taking a holiday trip during Durga Puja, an important festival in Bengal.
- up-country Mahomedan (3)
- That is, a Muslim from North India. “Mahomedan” was a common term for Muslims in English but is now obsolete.
- “There happen more things…” (3)
- I award you 25 English major points if you recognize this as a riff on a line from Hamlet.
- Vedas (4)
- Ancient sacred texts of India, first composed in Sanskrit in the 2nd millennium BCE, and part of Hindu scripture. They are always recited in Sanskrit (a classical language), so the man’s knowledge of the Vedas shows his erudition. The same goes for his knowledge of Persian, which is not spoken natively in North India but was a language of high culture from the time of the Mughal emperors (16th to 18th centuries) onwards.
- theosophist (4)
- Theosophy was an occult movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, founded in New York in 1875 but subsequently headquartered in Bombay, influenced by various religious traditions and mystical philosophies—hence the narrator’s kinsman’s belief in “occult power” from an “astral body.”
- my post at Junagarh…Nizam of Hyderabad (5)
- Junagarh or Junagadh was a princely state in Gujarat (in the west of India). Though India was under British rule, parts of India were governed by proxy rather than directly. The man has worked for two such rulers. The hereditary ruler of the state of Hyderabad (south-central India) was called the Nizam.
- Susta (5)
- or Shusta, a river. The translator has cut a pretentious aside in which the man gives the Sanskrit etymology of the river name (cf. the Ghosh version).
- Mahmud Shah II (5)
- I am unsure how to gloss this. Does it refer to the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah (r. 1719–1748)? A Persian Shah? It also seems possible to me that this is deliberately unreal.
- ghazal (5)
- an intricate poetic form, important in the Persian and Urdu traditions.
- ghi (9)
- now usually spelled ghee: clarified butter.
- sola hat like the sahebs (9–10)
- that is, the sola topee, the signature hat of the British (the sahebs) in India.
- attar (10)
- rose essence.
- guitar (11)
- the translator’s rendition of sitār, an instrument now better-known beyond the subcontinent.
- nahabat (11)
- a type of instrumental band. Other translations render this passage differently. Somewhere far off, music is starting.
- bulbuls (11)
- the bulbul is a songbird and, like the nightingale, a poetic trope.
- Rs. (11)
- rupees, the currency.
- Avalli hills (12)
- the Aravalli mountain range, which runs from Delhi to Gujarat.
- narghileh (16)
- a hookah. All the details here evoke the Mughal court or indeed the Baghdad of the Arabian Nights.
- Badshah (19)
- the Mughal emperor.
- Abyssinian (20)
- that is, Ethiopian; but perhaps the same as the earlier “negro eunuch.”
- chamar (20)
- the footnote only helps if you know the Anglo-Indian word “chowrie” or chowry, the yak-tail fly whisk and yet another sign of royalty.
- chaprasi (20)
- an office messenger.
- Nizamat (21)
- that is, all that pertains to the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was a byword for wealth.
November 21: Hurston (4).
November 18: Hurston (3).
“Going east and east. That night the palm and banana trees began that long distance talk with rain. Several people took fright and picked up and went in to Palm Beach anyway.”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013, p. 155.
Although the hurricane seems more impeding at every minute that passes by, people at the Everglades have chosen to stay in denial rather than facing reality because this would disturb their lives and how they understand the world. Therefore, they are unable to react and be cautious about it. However, nature does not wait for anyone to come around. Still, some people do react and leave, although not everybody (it is said that “several,” not “all” leave). The prudence of those who leave is rendered as “fright;” therefore, it is implied that those who stayed are brave. However, the irony of this fragment is that it shows the foolishness of Janie, Tea Cake, and the many others who stayed.
“‘Listen, mama, soon as Ah git over dis lil cuttin’ scrape, we goin-tuh do somethin’ crazy’
‘We goin’ on de muck.’
‘Whut’s de muck, and where is it at?’
‘Oh down in the Everglades, round Clewiston and Belle Glade where dey raise all dat cane and string-beans and tomatuhs. Folks don’t do nothin’ down dere but make money and fun and foolishness. We must go dere.'”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013, p. 128.
After gambling Janie’s money – and, luckily, not losing it – Tea Cake is hurt by his opponent. So, although they’re already in Jacksonville, Tea Cake decides to move further South, to the Everglades, to try luck there. His reason to move is something “crazy” that entails doing “nothing” but making “‘money,” “fun,” and “foolishness.” That is, it is a summary of the way Tea Cake sees life. Tea Cake is irresponsible, does not take things seriously, and wishes to make “easy money” investing as less effort as possible. Tea Cake paints the Everglades as something close to the promised land and uses this to maintain Janie’s fascination on him.
“Even before the sun gave light, dead day was creeping from bush to bush watching man.”
Their eyes are watching God- Zora Neale Hurston Pg.155
Nature, God, and Janie all are connected and the way the dead day is described here shows this. The destructive and dark imagery tied with nature is a reoccurring theme as the novel progresses and serves to show that nature, a powerful force, isn’t just limited to beauty, serenity, etc. It also ties with the larger theme of contentment that Janie is seeking and is essentially on a journey for. The perplexity of nature shown in the novel pertains to the development of Janie through her experiences throughout the novel. The way nature is described here, foreshadows the negative events to come. The way nature is portrayed serves to warn the characters and readers. Natures representation also ties with God since He has all power and controls nature. Janie continued to live life fully aware of God and His power allowing her to live without fear of judgement from others, she is only watching God’s eyes and no one else’s.
“Janie notices Indians leaving town and heading east. When she asks one of them where they’re all heading, he says that a hurricane is coming. A couple of days go by and more Indians move out. The animals start to leave as well. Soon, people on the muck begin to leave. A friend of Tea Cake’s and Janie’s asks them if they need a ride, but Tea Cake refuses. He doesn’t think the hurricane will ever come–it’s just a little storm. People are most worried about the lake overflowing. Those that stay on the muck spend their time gambling, singing, dancing, and having fun. They are still making money from picking beans, too.”
Their eyes are watching God- Zora Neale Hurston Pg.155
The indians leaving the animals leaving were all signs that the storm was coming.instead of janie and tea cake leaving as well they spend there night doing what they usually did which was “partying”. However here Tea cake was not being smart, they had no idea the impact of the storm.
“By the time the people left the fields the procession was constant. Snakes, rattlesnakes began to cross the quarters… Going east going east.” page 155
Animals have evolved to have a natural instinct pertaining to weather related disaster and know when they need to migrate; after being told there was a hurricane coming, the people in the Everglades remained unworried, despite the Indians migrating east. In this paragraph, the animals are migrating east to avoid the storm. This is evolutionary proof that a storm is coming in, and yet Janie and Tea Cake remain in the Everglades.
“Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people around her and a dice game on her floor!… The men held big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest.” (134)
Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937. pp. 134.
Janie went from dresses to overalls in her move towards the south. At the beginning of the novel, the Eatonville crowd sneers at her overalls. They have preconceived expectations of Janie, knowing she is the widow of the town’s wealthy mayor. Her time in the South has taught Janie to loosen up, be more comfortable with her self-expression and speech with as she was barred from doing by her Ex-husband and envious judgmental peers back home. Nobody in Everglades knew anything about Janie’s past and were generally down-to-earth themselves which allowed her to express herself more comfortably and humbly.
“‘Dat ain’t nothin’. You ain’t seen de bossman go up, is uh? Well all right now. Man, de money’s too good on the muck. It’s liable tuh fair off by tuhmorrer. Ah wouldn’t leave if Ah wuz you.'” (156)
After the move to the Everglades, the onset of the hurricane allows for a wrestling between what it means to be “secure,” as it pertains to financial stability and literal physical safety. Circumstance ends up forcing Tea Cake and Janie make that choice, and it foreshadows and projects the ending sequences of the novel as a result.
“‘Going to high ground. Saw-grass bloom. Hurricane coming.’ Everybody was talking about it that night. But nobody was worried,”
Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937. pp. 154-155.
Nature is literally warning Janie and Tea Cake to leave and telling them to get to higher ground. They cannot be too content in the south for so long before something eventually happens.
“And the thing that got everybody was the way Janie caught on. She got to the place she could shoot a hawk out of a pine tree and not tear him up. Shoot his head off. She got to be a better shot than Tea Cake”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Collins, 2006. page 131
When Janie moves to the south, we see her quality of life improve. Despite it being a poor area, Janie thrives there. In her relationship she is not forced to serve her significant other, but is allowed to surpass him. This kind of relationship would not have been possible if she hadn’t followed Tea Cake south.
“To Janie’s strange eyes, everything in the Everglades was big and new. Big Lake Okechobee, big beans, big cane, big weeds, big everything.”
Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937. pp. 129
the first thing Janie notices about the move to the Everglades. she says everything is big and in particular notices that a lot of natural elements are big. big crops, big lakes, etc. then eventually see says the people are “wild” but she first notices these things in nature before commenting on the people.
“Tea Cake had a brain-storm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. Everybody talked about it next day in the fields”
Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937. pp. 147
Tea Cake feels pressure by this new community to oppress Janie even though it is not like him to – revealing his fragile masculinity/insecurity.
Anyone who looked more folk-ish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct ratio to their negroness.
Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1937. pp. 144
This is the most self-hating human I’ve ever experienced.