Punishment by Rabindranath Tagore
In Punishment by Rabindranath Tagore we have the theme of conflict, power, control, trust, acceptance, sacrifice, loyalty and honesty. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story and right through to the end that Tagore may be exploring the theme of conflict. Chandara and Radha are unable to get along. Fighting continuously over matters the reader is unaware of but suspects may be trivial and more to do with both women wanting power over the other. There does not appear to be any other reason apart from jealousy for both women continually fighting over trivial matters. It is also interesting that both women are imposed upon by their husbands. Dukhiram has demands for food and Chidam persuades Chandara to take the blame for the murder of Radha. A cause that not only frightens Chandara but one in which she will be found guilty of and end up losing her life. However this highlights how trusting Chandara is and how dishonest Chidam may be. He is thinking only of his brother rather than keeping his focus on Chandara.
What is also interesting about the story is the role that Ramlochan plays. He creates a version of events that will ensure that everything is okay but turns his opinion on matters around when in court. He is not prepared to sacrifice his own well-being as Chandara is. In reality he does not intend to help Chidam during the trial. Though not necessarily selfish. Ramlochan is only thinking of himself which many readers may find acceptable. They may believe that Chidam and Dukhiram have brought their own misery upon themselves and as such will have to deal with matters for themselves. Though as mentioned Chidam is prepared to sacrifice Chandara for Dukhiram. Even when Dukhiram admits to killing Radha he is not believed in court. Which may be Tagore’s way of criticizing the judiciary and how out of step they may be. They have been presented with the real killer but the judge or prosecution do not believe Dukhiram. Despite going to the ghat on her own Chandara shows a lot of loyalty to Chidam. Something through jealously he punishes Chandara for. This may be significant as Tagore could be suggesting that there is no trust between Chidam and Chandara.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The rain falls down before Radha is killed. It is possible that Tagore is using the rain to symbolically suggest that something negative and awkward to clean up is about to occur. Radha’s death. Also the only time that Chandara feels free is when she is with another man and talking to him. Again symbolically this other man may represent freedom for Chandara. Who in reality may feel as though she is being taken for granted by Chidam. Being of a lower caste (kuri-caste) both Dukhiram and Chidam may have never had the opportunity to educate themselves so it is possible that Chidam’s reaction and placing of the blame for Radha’s death on Chandara, is his way of coping with what has happened. Things may have been entirely different for Chandara should Chidam have been educated. He may not have chosen the path he chose as quickly in defence of his brother. He may actually have been more logical and committed to Chandara when it came to what had happened.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chandara refuses to see Chidam after she has been sentenced to death. This could be important as it suggests that Chandara has cut all ties with her husband and no longer wants to have anything to do with him. The marriage is over as far as Chandara is concerned. Also she is accepting of the fate that awaits her even though she is innocent. This too may be significant as it is possible that Tagore by having Chandara being so acceptable to her fate. Is in reality showing how much control Chidam has over her. If it was not for Chidam, Chandara would be a free woman. However she would still be living a life in whereby Chidam controlled her movements (and her thoughts). Throughout the story the role of women has been to be submissive to the male. Who uses force to get his way. In reality neither Chandara nor Radha have a voice. They must do what they are told by Chidam and Dukhiram or face the consequences. For Radha the consequences have been fatal. She has lost her life because she dared to question and challenge Dukhiram. While Chandara has lost her life for being so loyal to Chidam.