Thursday, July 18, 2013

Woman Unknown – Rabindranath Tagore


Sub-genre:                 Traditional Realistic Fiction

Point of View:            First Person Narrator

Theme:                       Standing up for one’s right, the conflict customs and traditions pose on individual freedom

Technical Devices Used in the Story:

Prologue: It is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details, often some earlier story that relates to the significance of the main plot, and other miscellaneous information.

Flashback: It is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point to explain events that were part of the rising action. It helps readers to take stock of the denouement and critically analyse the outcome of the story.

Epilogue: It is a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work. The narrator or the writer speaks directly to the reader commenting on the present state of affairs to bring the piece to a close, or the narration may continue normally to a closing scene.

Themes of the story:

This beautiful story written somewhere in 1930s by Rabindranath Tagore basically intends to expose some of the ugly practices and the dark sides of otherwise so refined Indian culture and tradition. Dowry has been a perennial and one of the ugliest practices in the Indian culture. Thus, the story deals deeply with the horrifying impacts of dowry system on individuals as well as society.
Besides the rising of women to uphold their rights against all odds in a strongly male dominant society could be identified as the next most important theme in this sotry.
And finally bringing out some of the negative impacts of arrange marriage on individuals as well as society could also be identified as a minor theme in this story.

Justification of the Title:

This story is a story of an eligible bachelor Anupam waiting for his marriage and a girl kalyani who is supposed to marry him. The whole story moves around these two characters and comparatively Kalyani – the woman unknown in this story – has been presented as a stronger character than the boy or any other. But she remains unknown throughout the story and we do not know much about the girl or her character until we reach to the end of the story. Thus the title ‘Woman Unknown’ is very much appropriate for this story.


Important Characters in the Story:

ANUPAM: Anupam is the central character of this story, or in other words, he is the protagonist of this story. He is highly educated and an eligible bachelor waiting for his marriage. He does not have any bad habits and he is a very obedient son who cannot disobey anybody. He is very timid and shy who is easily dominated by others. He does not even have the guts to stand against the injustice or undesirable behaviour. Everything for him is decided by his guardian and uncle.

KALYANI: She is the woman unknown in this story. We do not know much about her till the later part of the story when the protagonist and his mother had a chance encounter with her in the train. But once we meet her we know that contrary to common Indian women she is very different. She is educated, confident, and bold. These characteristics have been exhibited by her in the train when the station master comes asking to vacate the compartment for some Englishman. She symbolises the changing status of woman in the Indian society. Though initially we find her father taking all the decisions regarding her life but once she is awakened she refuses to accept others’ decisions and she decides for herself and decides firmly.

ANUPAM’S UNCLE: After the death of Anupam’s father his uncle becomes the guardian of the family. For the family he is very responsible and takes up all the responsibility of the family successfully. He ensures that family property is well looked after and Anupam gets good education. He is very meticulous and careful about the wealth of the family and its growth. But these characteristics become too strong in him and make him suspicious of everybody else. He suspiciousness was proved when he demanded to check the gold given in dowry by his own goldsmith. In other words we can also say that he was very miserly and cunning. He was expert in marriage negotiations and ensured that Anupam got the best deal in terms of dowry.


A Brief Analysis:
“Woman Unknown is the story which unfolds the dark side of an Indian culture in marriage that weaves around social status and its pride. Marriage, despite its sacred meaning, makes women pay the price for it, if it doesn’t work well. In that case, if men lose, they lose very little/less.
“Unknown Woman” is also a history of a young Indian man and a woman who are caught and trapped in the hell fire of so called family pride and prejudice in the name of marriage. The arrangement and disagreement over dowry system is the thing that causes hassles in such a marriage. It is always the bride and her family who have to bear the unpleasant burden of marriage. This is all due to the culture which upholds man at a higher level than woman. 
The most unusual thing happens, when the bride’s father whose vision is augmented by education takes a U-turn in calling off the marriage ceremony. He does this as he sees the steam of inhumanity smolder and rise from the groom’s family. It is the education and wisdom that make him see the differences between darkness and light. If education doesn’t permit one to see such differences then its whole purpose is a sheer failure. If that is the case with education, then better not acquire it. But we see that is not the case with Shambunath. He does what he wants to do because he knows one should not become the victim for the sake of safe guarding culture and tradition. What he realizes is that one can comfortably give up or deny anything that embodies evil or bad nature. Foreseeing such things as pride, greed, inhumanity and brazenness in the groom’s family, Shambunath gives up his daughter’s marriage despite social pressures. He can’t give his daughter’s hands to the family who places its pride on status rather than on the principles and ethics of a good relationship.
On the other hand, ‘Woman Unknown’ is the portrayal of a woman who struggles to break social norm that sets a stereotypical role for her. Unlike her counterparts, she pictures herself to be strong willed and able to implement her own wish. In that case, we know that she has chosen not to marry but to devote her life time energy for the welfare of girls and women in her native land. She has seen the bleak future of women that can only be removed by education. She knows without education darkness would perpetuate in the life of most women in her society.
Kalyani also represents modern woman whose thinking horizon is widened by the power of education. Education is no doubt powerful in empowering personality with the power of logic at present but it also enables one to look ahead of life and courageously embark on the career that would help other women from falling into the trap. Kalyani herself and numerous other Indian women have fallen prey to it since India was born.
The story also presents the conflict in an Indian system of joint family, where power is consolidated in the hands of a single authoritarian male member. Apart from him no one can take the decision. Such a system when understood properly makes Anupam realize the thing that cripples his own right to think and act logically in life. Like Kalyani, he too is a dynamic character empowered by the wisdom of education to make him see the flaws that exist in his family. Thus, he breaks all barriers of custom and culture and decides to go on his knees to confront Kalyani and seek her hand in marriage. But will she bend?
‘Woman Unknown’ also makes us understand the true quality of ‘true love’. Anupam, after much trial realizes that his love for the Woman Unknown is far from fabrication. This is the very reason that strengthens him to give up his uncle and approach Shambunath.
Despite his true love for her, he never gets shattered when he understands that Kalyani wouldn’t marry him. Instead, he too chooses to remain unmarried for the rest of his life. He takes this ultimate decision because he has found a special place for her in his heart. Therefore, he will not need a second place to live in. Thus, we can attribute his love for Kalyani as the spiritual achievement which is far superior to that of physical one.
Some Important Questions and Answers:

  1. Explain the term, ‘a highly eligible bachelor’.
In the Indian context the term ‘a highly eligible bachelor’ refers to a young and unmarried man who is good, educated, belongs to a rich family and is free from some bad habits that a young boy can have. In this story Anupam is one such young man who possesses all the above mentioned qualities and that’s why he has been commended as a highly eligible bachelor.

  1. Give a brief account of uncle’s ‘certain fixed notions about marriage’.
Anupam’s uncle was a very shrewd calculative and cunning in money matters. He wanted a family who was rich enough to pay him a handsome dowry but at the same time he did not want a family richer than him either in terms of wealth or social status as he felt that he would not be in position to dominate the bride’s family. He believed that bride’s parents and family members should be always humble in from of groom’s family; they should not show any pride in their behaviour. He also felt that it was not obligatory for the groom’s family head to be humble or show too much respect to bride’s family members.

  1. What do you find remarkable in Sambhunath Babu, the bride’s father?
Sambhunath babu was a man of middle age and he was handsome enough to stand out even in a crowd. But the most remarkable fact about him is that he was a man of few words but strong conviction. He was also a man of self dignity and that’s why he could not bear the insult meted by Anupam’s uncle.

  1. Describe uncle’s shrewdness in the whole affair.
By nature uncle was very shrewd and cunning. He was a miser and had no trust on anybody else. He proved his shrewdness during the negotiation and finalizing the dowry. He made everything clear to the bride’s father – the amount in cash, the quantity of gold and etc. Not only this, he even took his own goldsmith to confirm the purity of gold before the actual marriage ceremony took place.

  1. Why did Sambhunath babu send the bridegroom back without marriage?
Just before the marriage Anupam’s uncle demanded Sambhunath babu to bring all the jewellery for checking its purity. Sambhunath said it was not required as his daughter had put on all the jewelleries. But uncle did not agree as he did not want to take any chance. Moreover he was already apprehensive observing the miserliness of Sambhunath in the arrangement made for the marriage party. Sambhunath took it as an insult and a breach of trust. He was hurt very badly and hence he decided not to give the hands of his daughter to a family who did not trust him and send the marriage party without any marriage.

  1. Give a brief account of the reactions of Anupam’s family after they came back without marriage.
Anupam’s family and especially his uncle was very furious about Sambhunath’s behaviour. They had not thought that a bride’s parent can break off the marriage. His uncle even thought of dragging them to court for defamation. Even Anupam was very angry and he thought that one day the bride’s father would come begging for their forgiveness and would request them once again to marry his daughter.


  1. Why did Anupam’s mother feel uneasy about the woman unknown in the train?
The girl’s boldness and frankness, according to mother’s point of view, was out of accepted proportion according to Indian culture. Moreover her buying chana and eating without any hesitation in front of them all was unexpected from a girl. Owing to these facts the mother felt quite uneasy about the girl.

  1. ‘The story ‘Woman Unknown’ depicts the status of woman in the Indian society and their struggle to rise and assert their presence in a more dominating way’. Explain.
The whole story categorically reveals the different facets of Indian culture and tradition. It basically deals with the culture of traditional marriage in the Indian society. It clearly reveals how the arrange marriage in India materialise and what are the problems that may arise in the process. It also highlights the vice of dowry and its consequences in the Indian society.
Traditionally the women’s position used to be non-significant in the whole process of marriage. In this story too Kalyani, the main protagonist, does not have any say in her marriage. But once the marriage is broken she shows her independence by taking her own decision to devote her life for the service of motherland and educate young women. Women’s independence and resurrection has been asserted more emphatically when she refuses Anupam’s proposal of marriage at the end of the story despite her father’s willingness. By rejecting Anupam’s marriage proposal she is symbolically asserting that Indian women would no more be ruled by the male and they would no more submit themselves to the whims and dominance of male dominated society.