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“Come on powerful, come on my fresh green”: Representations of the Child and Constructions of Childhood in Rabindranath Tagore’s Writings for Children



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Kamal, Sabrina Sharmin 


The present study investigates Asia’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861-1941) writings for children, situating his work in the tumultuous time of colonial India marching towards independence. The study makes an original contribution to Tagore scholarship and the field of children’s literature arguing that Tagore’s designated protagonist, the Bengali child, subverts social and political structures of power and authority, and is a vehicle for the author’s hopes for future. The discourse of Tagore’s literature for children posits, hopes for, and construes an implied child reader - the imagined nation’s future citizens. His constructions of childhood, the study claims, are symbolic, oscillating between the reflective and the transformative and synthesising the author’s intentions, fears, desires, values and attitudes towards childhood. In order to reach its overarching conclusions, the present study has considered the political and social contexts of the original production of the texts which is reflected in the study’s theoretical assumption - the historicist reading of childhood informed by postcolonial and power-oriented theories of children’s literature. Close reading of a selection of Tagore’s writings for children suggest that Tagore’s own ideologies about childhood were decisively shaped by the colonial time and the colonised place in which he lived, and his images of childhood concentrate on physical landscapes of the indigenous Bengal in order to construct an imagined decolonised landscape, and form consciousness of national identity. The present study has also argued that Tagore’s fictional world(s) of children are a result of restorative re-imagining and re-inventing, not just manifestation of his personal grief and experiences. Additionally, Tagore has employed fictive children for a variety of conflicting and complementary uses: mighty and empowered children in fantasy critique fascist regimentation, but their images are juxtaposed elsewhere with realistic portrayals of helpless and disempowered children who are unable to seek agency against societal oppression. Tagore’s persistent but persuasive portrayals of uninspired children in mechanised colonial education and of coercive teachers and teaching methods illuminate his educational ideologies and confirm a prescriptive authorial presence in the narrative. Yet, the present study has contended that Tagore’s imagined childhood is an empowered time and space in which fictive children are able to acquire agency and self-awareness through a variety of pleasurable and unpleasurable experiences, functioning as a democratic channel where child-adult power relations are constantly being negotiated.




Styles, Morag
Whitley, David


Bengali children's literature, power theories of children's literature, Bengali childhoods


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Churchill College of University of Cambridge and Smuts Memorial Fund