Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review of Gora: A Novel of Rabindranath Tagore

‘Gora’ is the biggest novel of Rabindranath Tagore. In any estimate, it deserves to be one of the most important novels in Bengali Literature. It was written for a literary magazine and was published serially more than 100 years ago and then ‘Gora’ was published as a book. The name of the central character Gora (Gour Mohan) is in the name of the book. The plot revolves around the life and ideas of Gora and his best friend Binaybhushon (Binay). Religious conflict of the time between Hinduism and Brahmoism, colonial British rule in India and its reaction, condition of women in society- all these have been depicted by Tagore in the novel.
The first thing that should come to the mind of the readers is the conflict of religion. This conflict has multi dimensions. The central conflict is between Hinduism and Brahmoism. There is Hindu-Muslim conflict, Hindu-Christian conflict, Muslim-Christian conflict. The Christians in the novel had two faces. They were not only Christian but they were also English or British or European. The interesting thing is that some members of Hindus and Brahmos were eager to make good relationship with the colonial rulers so that they could get facilities and earn more money and get more prestige and influence in the society.
The hero Gora was born at the time of Indian Rebellion of 1857 (or also known as India's First War of Independence or just Sepoy Mutiny). His father was an Irishman and the father was a soldier in the colonial army. His mother came to the house of Krishnadayal and gave birth to Gora and died. Second Wife of Krishnadayal, Anondomoyi, did not have any child of her own and decided to take care of Gora as her own son. At that time, Krishnadayal did not object for two reasons. Perhaps he also felt happy with the new born baby. Secondly, at that time, he was not a devoted Hindu and used to drink wine or even perhaps ate beef with the British officials and this way got promotion and wealth in this job.
Gora undergoes radical changes in his ideas and beliefs several times. From his childhood, he hated the British as they were the colonial rulers. He dreamt of independence for his country. In his teen years, he became attracted to Brahmoism after listening to some of the speeches of Keshub Chandra Sen. Thus, Gora became a radical Brahmo and started to criticize everything related to Hinduism. However, while fighting with an Englishman in newspaper, he realized that first he had to fight for driving the British from India and then he could afford to think of reforming his own religion. As a result, he started to follow all the Hindus rituals and read about the religion. Then, in the very end of the novel, Gora learnt that he was the child of Irish parents and no matter how much he tried; he would not become a real Hindu anymore. He came to this realization that real India is higher than any religion or caste. A real God is the God who can be worshipped by anyone and is not limited to just one religion.
Hinduism was and still is the religion of majority of the population in India. In Gora, the Hindu characters were mostly Bengali Hindus. Krishnadayal, Anondomoyi, Mohim, Binoy, Abinash and Horimohini were the main Hindu characters in the novel. They did not have any kind common pattern in their characters. Anondomoyi was a truly liberal person with liberal ideas. Binoy was to large extent similar to Anondomoyi. Krishnadayal, Mohim and Horimohini were devoted Hindus but they were also opportunist and used Hindusim for their own advantage. This is the main criticism of Tagore against contemporary Hindus. Tagore tried to say that the Hindus did not understand the main philosophy of the religion and were limited to following rituals. According to Tagore, these Hindus did not practice the thing the believed and were ready to compromise with the British for getting some benefit. The best example is Mohim (the son of Krishnadayal from first marriage).
Rabindranath Tagore himself was a Brahmo and his father Debendranath Tagore was a towering figure in the history of Brahmoism. Thus, the novel ‘Gora’ perhaps is a very important book to understand Tagore’s view on his own religion. In the novel, there is perhaps two kind of Brahmo characters. On the one end, there is someone like Pareshchandra who was fully a liberal person. On the other extreme, Haranchandra Nag (also known was Panubabu) who was a narrow minded Brahmo. People like Haranchandra believed in following rituals of Brahmoism and was always keen to interpret the religion that would bring benefit for him.
A lot has been said about Tagore in the last 70 years for his alleged anti-Islamist attitude. However, the depiction of Islamic values in Gora can easily be termed pro-Islamic. Gora praised the Prophet of Islam in Chapter 17 this way:
Anyone who tolerates injustice is also guilty because he create injustice on earth. You will not understand my words but remember that (mere) goodness is not religion; rather it increases the number of evil people. Your (prophet) Mohammad understood this matter and that is why, he did not preach his religion as a good person only.
In other words, here Gora is praising Prophet Mohammad for his fight against injustice.
Tagore also showed that there is unity among Muslims because they did not have any caste system like Hindus. All the Muslims have unity in their religion. On the other hand, Hindus are divided in castes and they do not have unity among themselves.

 As for Christianity, Tagore talked more about the British than the religion itself. There is no doubt that Pareshchandra was an admirer of Jesus Christ and Christianity. On the other hand, Haranchandra is crazy for anything British. Pareshchandra could make a distinction between Christianity and the British rule in India. Tagore has shown two kind of Englishmen in the novel. In chapter 10, there is an Englishman who was traveling in the same steamer with Gora and at first made fun of the working class Bengali people. An educated Bengali man joined him in this fun. Gora became very angry and protested to both of them. In the end, the Englishman apologized to Gora for rude remarks made earlier.
In Chapter 27, there is another kind of English character in Magistrate Brownlow. Brownlow was a tyrant person and he was not ready to listen to anything what Gora had to say. Instead, he depended on the information provided by a bad person.
Colonialism is an important aspect in Tagore’s novel ‘Gora’. The British or the English were in power. Until 1858, English East India Company was mainly in charge but after the rebellion of 1857, British government in London directly took over the administration of India. So, it was the time of Queen Victoria and in England it was the Victorian age. On the other hand, in India, Queen Victoria did not have that much of an impact in the mind of ordinary people. At least her name is not mentioned in the novel by any of the characters. Instead, magistrates like Brownlow were more important to the people of Bengal because they had to deal with this kind of Englishman in their daily life.
In reaction to English rule, it is perhaps very clear that hardly anyone liked it in Bengal. Gora used to hate British and none of the Hindu characters were fond of them. The Muslims had even more bitterness to the colonial rule. Only some people belonging to Brahmo community were extremely found of British rule. Only people like Panubabu and Boroja Sundori were very fond of England and considered the British rule as a blessing of God.
Tagore has portrayed Panubabu and Boroja Sundori as negative characters in the novel. Perhaps the major villain character of this novel is Panubabu who was jealous of Gora and was in direct competition with him about the love of the heroine, Suchorita. About the impact of colonial rule, Tagor seems to be talking in the same way like Georgh Orwell did in ‘Shooting an Elephant’. Orwell in ‘Shooting an Elephant’ showed that the colonial rule did not only hurt the oppressed people but it also did no good to the colonial rulers.
Tagore has taken the same line in Gora. The British were ruling but they did not have any respect in the eyes of the Indian people. Sometimes, some people like Mohim wereshowing a lot of respect to English officials but it was not out of respect; rather it was to get some benefit.
Secondly, Tagore has also showed that India has a rich civilization. Tagore accepted that the British rule had some good sides in India. The European ideas helped to create a person like Pareshbabu. Anondomoyi was also influenced by the Western liberal ideas. The same can be said about Gora and Binoy who studied in university and got benefited from Western Ideas and education. However, Western education at the same time created some narrow minded people like Panubabu.

Through out the novel, there is a lot of debate and argument about God and Hinduism. There is a lot of debate about the real nature of India. In the end, Gora realized that India is a country that must include all the religions. India is not just about Hinduism but it is a country with many religions and many ideas. Gora also realized that a real God was not just the Hindu god but the real God was someone who could be worshipped by people of all the religions. Thus, Gora in the end rejected the narrow interpretation of country and religion.
This is perhaps the first novel in Bangla literature in which there are so many strong female characters. Shuchorita is the heroine of the novel and she sometimes outshines most of the male characters. She has the mental strength that many women of her time could not imagine. Shuchorita was very a attractive girl and Panubabu was interested to marry her. Gora also fell in love deeply. Binoy at the beginning was also attracted to her. She had the mental courage to rebel against her society and fight for her own rights. She respected Pareshbabu immensely and when Haran said bad words about Pareshbabu, Suchorita reacted very sharply.
Suchorita also loved her country and that is why she respected Gora. At the beginning of the novel, Suchorita at first did not like Gora because Gora was a fanatic Hindu but when she saw that Gora was a true patriot and then she defended Gora in any argument with Panubabu. So, she was also a patriotic person. Panubabu was from her own society and religion and Suchorita did not respect Hinduism at that time. However, she understood that Gora was a pure person full of love for India.

Lolita was the second daughter of Pareshbabu. Lolita had the same kind of attitude towards Hinduism like any Brahmo at the beginning of the novel. However, true patriotic feeling of Gora touched her heart too. Lolita started to respect Gora when Gora went to prison for upholding the rights of the ordinary people. This also shows that Lolita was not a typical Brahmo girl. She did not have the same attitude like Boroja Sundoir or Panubabu. She had her own ideas and she also believed in truth and patriotism.
Perhaps the most attractive and strongest female character in the novel is Anondomoyi, the foster mother of Gora. Anondomoyi was the daughter of a Brahmin but after her marriage with Krishnadayal, she had to go to different places with her husband. At that time, her husband was fond of the British people.
At first, it was very difficult for Anondomoyi to keep up with the modern life style of her husband. She had to attend the parties with her husband- parties that were hosted by the British and she did not like it. But after getting Gora, her life changed. She came out of the narrow attitude of traditional Hindus of her time and started to respect all the human beings.
Rabindranath Tagore has shown that Hindu girls get married at a very early age and this way they can not become educated and they are often unattractive compared to Brahmo girls. Here, the examples of two girls are perhaps relevant. At first, the brother of Gora, Mohim, wanted that Binoy got married with his daughter Shoshimukhi. Shoshimukhi was just eleven or twelve years old and she was still a child. She did not have that much education and she was not attractive. On the other hand, Pareshbabu’s second daughter Lolita was a teenage girl and she had her education and she was more attractive to Binoy. In the end, Binoy got married with her.
At that time, many Hindu young men had the same problem. They were highly educated but they were married with girls who did not even go to school and who were just eleven or twelve years old.
Tagore in his own life experienced the same thing. When he got married he was 22 years old and his wife was only 10/11 years old. Tagore tried to show that if there is such a distance in marriage between the husband and the wife then, happiness cannot come easily. On the other hand, Suchorita was 17 years old and Gora was few years older than her. Thus, they were a good match. The same can be said about Binoy and Lolita.
So, this is a must read novel for anyone interested about Tagore, India, Bengali nationalism, Hinduism, Brahmoism and English colonial rule in India.  
In internet, there are not a lot of materials about ‘Gora’. The following links may of some interest for anyone interested about this novel:


  1. thnku very much sir... ur essay n d liks u provided indeed proved to b of great help.

  2. Thank you so much for your lovely essays.

  3. Thanks a lot! Its really a great essay!