Bring out the appropriateness of the title of The Wife’s Letter by Rabindranath Tagore

The appropriateness of the title of the story The Wife’s Letter is not beyond all disputes. It is contended that the letter is written by one Mrinal to one, appearing as her husband, and in this perspective, Mrinal’s Letter (and not The Wife’s letter) would seem more apt and applicable as the title of the story.

The expression “The Wife’s Letter’ means actually a letter received from a wife. The recipient must be the husband. But the husband remains practically absent in the story. The wife dominates here and the husband remains into the background. He is not shown to read the letter. Mrinal, supposed to be his wife, writes the letter. Here, too, the actual sense and the implication of the title differ.

But to contest the propriety of the title on any technical sophistry is, perhaps, to miss the thematic profundity of the story. There is not the least doubt that the tetter ends with the signature of Mrinal and she is, therefore, its writer. She refers, at the very, beginning, to her own married life for fifteen years. So she is the wife, rather, as she
herself declares, the Meja Bou of her father-in-law’s house. She is a wife to someone and the letter is from her to him, her husband.

What is more, the story, told in her letter, is of much social significance, particularly for the time of Tagore’s writing. Through Mrinal’s letter, the humanitarian story-teller in Rabindranath speaks out about the grim situation of women in a conservative man-ridden society. Through the story of her life and mind, he focuses on the wrongful denial of woman’s self-dignity and human rights.

Here is the serious social theme of the story. This is about the sad plight of women in orthodox Indian society. Mrinal’s realization of her womanly liberty after her decision to release herself from her callous, unsympathetic domesticity and Bindu’s painful life and pitiful death are too hard revelations. These are not to be wiped off with any plea of social status and customary codes.

Indeed, Tagore brings out in his story the utterly helpless state of women in the conservative social order, dominated by men. Their beauty that matters in their selection as brides are soon forgotten and slighted. Their womanly right and dignity are hardly admitted. Even their domesticity is kept thoroughly unattended, even
unhygienic. Their personal wishes and inclinations are the least considered and valued. Can such a situation be human and worth living for a wife? The answer is obvious.

And the picture is worst in the case of Bindu. Driven out of her home and tortured by her cousins, she sought shelter in her elder sister’s house where she was treated as an unpleasant intruder. She was subjected to humiliation and even married to a mad person heedlessly. Her earnest imploration was ruthlessly turned down and humanly feeling, rudely suppressed. Almost like a hunted creature, she fled away from her husband only to be thrown back there. She got her peace at last by setting her clothes on fire and killing, herself.

This is the story of all grossness and gloom, cruelty and callosity. Rabindranath strikes his protest through Mrinal’s letter-the wife’s letter. Mrinal knows and realizes the bitter truth of a woman’s destiny, her helpless destitution. She registers her bold stand in her unequivocal declaration :

“But I will never, again, return to your house at number 27, Makhan Boral Lane. I have seen Bindu. I have learned what it means to be a woman in this domestic world. I need no more of it”.

This is what a woman-a wife-sees and nows….She is no more a name-Mrinal the Mejo Bou of 27, Makhan Boral Lane. She signifies the slighted and suppressed womanhood. She rises here above her individual name and place as a protest incarnate against the cultivated tyranny over the woman, particularly the wife, by the man-made and man-led society. Her letter, bearing her protest, is of the harassed wife, not of one Mrinal of a particular house of a particular lane of Calcutta.

The universal wife in Mrinal triumphs here over the individual name Mrinal. She writes the letter, not for her individual self but to highlight the cause of her class-wife-and her letter is of a wife under the signature only of Mrinal. Hence there is little to deny the appropriateness of the title-The Wife’s Letter