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Red Oleanders by Tagore: A Discussion in Symbolism

April 19, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 687

The Red Oleanders of Tagore at once stands out as a major milestone in the career of the modern Bengali drama; impregnated with a deep sustained symbolism, the drama abjures the more mundane dialect of conversational prose, and speaks in a language charged with poetry and mysticism, a language that invariably matches the deep ecstatic nature of the message of the drama. Ranjan and Nandini have that great elusive duality which make them at once our comrades and yet transcendental beings. The duo belongs not so much to the world of flesh and blood as to the realm of symbolism - allegorical illustrations of Tagore's vision. Nandini, the protagonist of the play is a remarkable innovation, who trudges across the stage as freely as air. She has a most elemental vitality which she owes to another self and stands as an idealized emblem of love and its reassuring virtues - youth, spring inspiration and revolution. Ranjan and Nandini do not have strict separate identities, although Ranjan is the thematic abstract ideal of freedom through bondage and Nandini is the grand priestess, who helps us achieve the goal by breathing love into us.

The Red Oleanders contains a plethora of symbolism interpenetrating one another. Though Tagore was not obviously intending the play to be a socialist manifesto, industry, capitalization and the co-related exploitation of labor find footages in the play. At the heart of the play, lies the class struggle. The arbiters of Yaksha town ruthlessly set out to exploit nature and common man, have a most spiritual nexus between them, but now their very life and soul are at stake under the deep mass of mechanized civilization. The quiet rural existence in the bosom of nature now looks like an embarrassing relic of an older life style in collision with the nature, which is now threatened by the devouring menace of the king and his associates. The king ransacks nature and rifles its bowels with an eccentric frenzy. He has the most deadly touch which tortures everything to destruction and sucks out the life sap of everybody so as to leave them in the state - "life in death and death in life". Nandini, the fresh flow of life radicalizes a spiritual glow of freedom, which naturally frightens the king whose cells of mind are closed. The king is both afraid and attracted by Nandini and her Red Oleanders for they are the token of love, liberty and the coming change.

Nandini, the great emissary of nature, is the sweet heart of Ranjan, very appropriately, even in terms of symbolism. If Ranjan stands for the message of liberty, (because he is likened to the wind, Irresponsible in its approach) then Nandini is the great spirit of love in nature and hence the votary of alter eyes of Ranjan. She is an incarnation of nature with those garlands of red oleanders. The oleanders are read, because they emit love and liberty and liberty must be hatched through a most impersonal kind of love. Ranjan wisely gave the red oleanders to Nandini, because love, as an passion has red for its natural color and red looks forward to revolution.

The Yaksha town is a lucid illustration of the chain of bondage. The capitalist industry makes an attack upon the innocent helpless people from the first retiring villages and compelled them to a huddled existence in the industrial slums and shanties. Divorced from the domestic pleasure and freedom, these ill-fated laborers forfeit their humanity by dredging all day long in the dark prison houses symbolized by the mines. Victims of the capitalist greed, these men are reduced to mere numbers- 41v or 69ng. they thus wear badges of abject slavery. Their tears invite Ranjan and Nandini into the scene. The drunken eyes and drooping heads of such hapless creatures like Bishu, Chandra, Phagulal and others receives a thrust of rejuvenation at the appearance of Nandini into the scene. She is a soul who contains in her the life forces - softness and indomitable willpower, love and fearlessness, girlish enthusiasm and matronly wisdom. She touches everything back to life. As her name warrants, she is the very quintessence of the aesthetic pleasure in man, destined to enthrall everybody. Bishu can go mad for her. The most choric professor shakes off his abstract impersonality and sings refrains of love. Even the dehumanized Sardar cannot escape her attraction, although like Gossains, his passion is of a different nature. She is often misunderstood in her vacation, because of her poor comprehension of the other characters.

Chandra mistakes her as a libertine, for messages of change are not always well received. We are afraid of change sometimes, even when we need it, because it tends to lead us into regions of uncertainty, to which we are not used to. Our pettiness stands in the way of proper understanding, juts as Chandra's jealousy blinded her vision temporarily.

The height of Nandini's conquest is when after the splendid encounter with the king, she succeeds in transforming the self. But symbolically again it is not before his blindness snatched a great price - the herald of youth love and spring is killed by his own hands out of ignorance. Though it is a great regression, Nandini takes up the unfinished work of Ranjan and carries on the torch of change with the belief that Ranjan can't die. Of course Ranjan ceases to be a man anymore here in this sense, just as Nandini, remains as a becoming star to guide us through the civilizational ups and downs.

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Red Oleanders


Sumbolism In Red Pleanders


Symbolism In Tagore Plays

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