September 24, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Short Story: Tagore, Shaw and Foucault – An Imaginary Conversation by Prof. (Dr.) Abhishek Kumar

3 min read

This short story penned by Dr. Abhishek Kumar reads as an imaginary conversation between Rabindranath Tagore, George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright) and  Michel Foucault (French philosopher), and explores themes of power, class structure, religion, God through the literary lens. 


Gora, the novel by Rabindranath Tagore has long represented the turning of India towards a more confident, assertive, and creative self. It has in its character Gora a hero who does not hesitate to wear his religion on his sleeve, asserts and accepts the structure and the spirit of his religion almost unquestioningly. He energetically defends the tenets of his religion and brooks no deviation. His world and his views are challenged as he comes in contact with Paresh Babu and his daughters who are members of a different religion, Brahmo Samaj, and live by principles different from his. The story revolves around his response to the religious affiliations of people around him and his unwavering love for the motherland that serves as the looking glass through which he perceives the world. 

John Tanner, the maverick character in the play Man and Superman of George Bernard Shaw is a forceful demonstration of what a superman is likely to be. Shaw presents him as one with characteristics of the Spanish legend Don Juan who represents the autonomous and free male spirit. John Tanner is undeterred by the accepted norms nor he is overwhelmed by the ever-new developments taking place in society and sees right through them to their very essence and interprets them for humanity for the future. In this play, Shaw epitomises John Tanner as the cause and the consequence of life force which impels humanity towards greater realization of its abilities and includes detailing the role that he envisages for women in the world of superman. 

The questions that Gora raises on nationalism, on the identity of India, on the role of religion in one’s life and work are similar to the questions raised by John Tanner on possibilities for a human being, the directions that his growth may take, and the consequences for humanity. These questions arise from the deeply-felt identities the two characters perceive for themselves.  Their penetrating observations of themselves and their race in the context of the then society confer upon them an ability to diagnose the ills that afflict, isolate the possible causes and develop a vision for the society, for the country in the case of Gora and for the human race in case of John Tanner. This remarkable ability makes them two unique and infinitely interesting characters in world literature. The relevance of their existence lies in the ever contemporaneous nature of the issues they addressed and grappled with. This paper inquires the possible sources of the ability of these two characters to transcend time and space in the scope of their existence. It employs various constructs of Foucault to unravel the mystery of the two characters and seek to arrive at an in-depth and wholesome understanding of them. The following paragraphs attempt to elucidate the two characters with the Foucauldian concepts of gaze, power/knowledge, histories of the present, and histories of experience.

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