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Originally written in Bengali, "Broken ties", is among the most popular of stories by Rabindranath Tagore. The story, published inn 1925, gives a portrayal of the conflict between the traditions of the Bengali community and the modern culture and philosophy introduced by the British. The writer illustrates the diverse ideologies and philosophies brought by the western culture, and their resulting impact on the community's culture, through his array of characters; their personal reflections about traditional values in respect to western culture, attitudes and life experiences. The story is narrated by the unbiased Srivilas, whose position and point of view clearly paints each character's viewpoint in all aspects important to the story. Division of the novel into four sections, the uncle, Satish, Damini and Srivilas; aids in expounding the themes and ideas through the major characters of each part. The novel reflects some of the philosophies inculcated by the author, Rabindranath Tagore and his personal view.
Jagamohan and his brother, Harimohan are described by the narrator (Srivilas), with both adopting different beliefs, pointing out to the extreme ends of western and eastern philosophies respectively. Jagamohan, just like his nephew Satish, is born within the religious culture within the Bengali community but later grows to be an atheist. His atheistic view influence the young Satish who grows with the same attitude in an ambivalent state with, his father, Harimohan's eastern philosophy. Britain's invasion of the region and subsequent colonization brings the concepts modernity and civilization to the Bengali people. Introduction of contemporary values and beliefs from the west inevitably affects the pristine nature of the traditions and cultural viewpoints of the colonized Bengali society. Jagamohan adopts this anti-religious stand as a result of being influenced by the western writings, particularly Thomas Malthus's influential perspective on population growth.
Bengali traditions do not have any barrier or restrictions to growth in the number of its people, but his adopted philosophy convinces Jagamohan not to remarry after the death of his wife, regardless of religious view of his people. His subsequent rejection of all religious practices and norm reflects his atheistic stand. Human dignity and equality of all people despite historical background is another adopted view which further adds to his resolve in rejecting his people's religion. The caste system within the Bengali culture lead to inhuman treatment of the common people of lower caste. This conflicted with his growing perspective about equality, increasing his resentment about the culture; a reflection of Tagore's personal thinking as seen in his interactions with all in spite of the cultural hindrances between people of different social status. Similar perspectives arise in juxtaposing the author's personal outlook on religion, with Jagamohan and Satish's view. Albeit the similarities, they do not infer an atheistic position of the author, but rather his own attitude towards the failings of Bengali tradition especially in regard to treatment of fellow human beings and subjugation of women in the social setting.
Initial contact with the western culture began with a mastery of the colonial language by the native Bengali. Learning the language introduced the basic cultural values of the British to the natives, as other more advanced concepts and philosophies could be learnt from diverse writings of its people, with progression in studying other areas of the literary field. Inculcating these fundamentally western ideologies influenced the previously held traditional philosophies of the Bengali as noted through Jagamohan and Satish. Jagamohan is particularly influenced by Malthus's philosophy, which strongly influences his decision no to marry because of the already populated Bengali community, with the idea of ensuring resources will be left for future generations. His logical thinking and ideal approach to other issues are further swayed by the doctrinal writings of Mill and Bentham. Projecting these into the literary studies of Satish, as the young boy strives to master the English language, expands Jagamohan's perspective into his own. As a consequence, western writings influencing the uncle also inadvertently, eventually affect the nephew.
There exist great differences in the way of thinking adopted by the atheists and the religious characters within the novel, their approach to cultural traditions and emerging matters of conflicting angles. The atheistic view points are portrayed by Satish and Jagamohan, while the other characters, particularly Harimohan- Jagamohan's brother, reflect the religious stand point. The believers stick to the traditional culture as it is, without trying to reason or adopt any logical standpoint regarding it being right or wrong, through the new values brought by modernity. Through Harimohan, the believers can be seen as idealistic but are confined and dependent on their Bengali upbringing. They are not open to other cultural ideas and are rendered inflexible to change. On outright wrong aspect, or rather unfair by its nature, is the subjugation of the women within the society.
Women are not given much consideration in any matter involving their domineering male counterparts. Nanibala's love affair with Purander leaves her pregnant; a grave misconduct within the culture which leaves her with the lowest stature among the womenfolk. The believers treat her as a pariah to be avoided with questions raised about her moral values. Social constraints cast upon Nanibala, lead her to the atheistic Jagamohan who welcomes and accommodates Nanibala without any prejudice. Satish on his part decides to marry her irrespective of cultural barriers, to save her from social pressure. Atheists differ by their liberal and logical approach to all issues, adopting a realistic point of view informed by western philosophies; as portrayed by Jagamohan. Not sticking to the norms and doctrines fronted by the religion within the Bengali community, gives the atheist, open perspective and rational beliefs without religious and affiliated social constraints.
"Broken ties" raises a number of thematic issues, with the conflict between western and eastern philosophies and cultural traditions being among the main themes. The doctrines introduced by the colonizing regime at the end of the 19th century brought divisions within the Bengali culture. Some of the people chose to adopt the western culture, mainly as a result of the oppressive nature of their local culture on sections of the society - the lower castes and women, while others chose to stick with their Bengali traditions and its philosophies. Satish portrays a perfect picture of the group torn between the reality of the two diverse and immiscible cultures. In this context, Jagamohan indicates the ability of individuals to have their own beliefs and attitudes in spite of surrounding cultural pressure, while in contrast; Satish succumbs to the same pressure in the absence of his mentor.
Love between the men and women are expounded the relationships portrayed in the novel. Bengali traditions give the women subjective roles of docility and submission in this vital relationship; low positions that raise the domineering aspect of male gender within the culture. Female characters consider themselves owned by their male counterparts, to whom they belong and are dependent for life after marriage. Each woman in the novel belongs to only one man. Nanibala and Nabin's wife commit suicide when they consider their ties with their beloved severed. Tagore brings out the narrator -Srivilas-, as an independent woman, strong enough to overcome to cultural constraints imposed on many of her female folk. Having an understanding of the involved binary cultures and philosophies, illustrates equality with men. Damini is a clear illustration of the woman within the modern concept; she is bold and outgoing in spite of retrogressive culture in relation to women independence. In the end of the story, Damini breaks the social boundaries with the realization that she could have the person she loved, without having to subjectively give up herself.