The Renunciation by Rabindranath Tagore
In The Renunciation by Rabindranath Tagore we have the theme of class, prejudice, shame, revenge, letting go, love, bravery and tradition. Taken from his The Hungry Stones and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Tagore may be exploring the theme of class. Both Hemanta and his father Harihar are both Brahmins (members of the highest Hindu caste) while Kusum is the daughter of a Sudra (lowest of the four Hindu castes). Due to the perception at the time a member of the Brahmin caste considered themselves to be better than someone from the Sudra caste and as such marriage between either castes (or social classes) was deemed improper. Something that is clear to the reader by Harihar’s wish for Kusum to leave his house. It is as though Kusum is a stain on Harihar’s family based solely on the fact that she is of a lower caste than Harihar and Hemanta. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Harihar is being prejudicial based solely on Kusum’s social class. If anything Harihar does not wish to have his family associated with Kusum as it will bring shame onto his family. Something that Kusum herself feels when the truth about her background is revealed. Kusum feels ashamed.
This may be important as in reality Kusum has done nothing wrong. She may not have adhered to accepted societal norms at the time but Tagore may be questioning these same norms in the story. As it is clear to the reader that Hemanta loves Kusum. Peari Sankar’s character is also interesting as he appears to be driven by a desire to get revenge on Harihar. So strong is Peari Sankar’s desire for revenge that he does not take into consideration that he may be hurting people. His battle is with Harihar yet he uses Hemanta and Kusum to exact revenge on Harihar. Though some critics might suggest that Peari Sankar has acted selfishly and thought only of himself it is more likely that Tagore is highlighting how important the caste system is to Peari Sankar. Peari Sankar has been ostracised by Harihar not through any fault of his own but due to the fact that he wished to protect his daughter. As any father might wish to do. How deeply affected Peari Sankar was is noticeable by the fact that he did not forget what Harihar did to him.
In fact Tagore is most likely suggesting that the caste system was so important to Peari Sankar that he refused to let go of what Harihar had done to him. Even when he went to start a new life in Calcutta. Similarly Harihar also intervened and halted a possible marriage between one of Peari Sankar’s nephews and a girl. Again due to the accepted societal norms that came with the caste system. If anything Peari Sankar was looked upon in an unfavourable light based solely on his desire to protect his daughter. How strongly Peari Sankar really felt is noticeable by the fact that he is prepared to use Kusum as a pawn to get revenge on Harihar. However it might also be important to remember that Kusum is in love with Hemanta. Though she does have doubts about marrying him which is interesting as Tagore may be suggesting that Kusum is aware of the caste system and knows she is of a lower caste than Hemanta. Which in many people’s eyes would mean that the marriage is unacceptable.
However so strong are Kusum’s feelings for Hemanta that she hides the fact that she is of a lower caste and still marries Hemanta. This might be important as it suggests that for Kusum love is more important than anything society might say or think about her marriage to Hemanta. It might also be significant that Peari Sankar relishes in the fact that he has brought shame onto Harihar. It is as though revenge is sweet for Peari Sankar. He has waited a long time to exact revenge on Harihar. What is also interesting about the end of the story is the fact that Hemanta refuses to leave Kusum. This may be important as it would appear that Hemanta’s love for Kusum is more important to Hemanta than what society might think about Kusum being of a lower caste. If anything Hemanta is turning his back on accepted societal norms and following his heart. The result being that Harihar renounces Hemanta. Making life harder on Hemanta but the point Tagore may be making is that Hemanta has done the right thing. He has stood by the woman he loves regardless of her social class. Life might become difficult for Hemanta but at least he will have the woman he loves and who loves him by his side. The values of Harihar and Peari Sankar are not the same values of Hemanta. He is bravely breaking with tradition.