Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Hungry Stones" is a short story centering on a
seemingly supernatural experience.
Macmillan published it in New York City in 1916 as
the title piece in a
collection of Tagore's stories.
action takes place in the late nineteenth century on
a passenger train
in eastern India and at a train station as the main
characters await another
train bound for Calcutta (now called Kolkata).
person who begins the story.
companion of the first narrator.
Man who tells the first narrator and the theosophist
a ghostly tale. He
identifies himself as Srijut.
of the second narrator.
in the Second
Narrator's Story: (1) second narrator; (2)
Mehir Ali, an insane Man;
(3) Karim Khan, an officer worker; (4)
and Point of View
Hungry Stones” is frame tale. In such a story, there
are two narrators.
The first narrator presents a scene with characters.
The second narrator—who
is one of the characters introduced by the first
narrator—then tells a
Hungry Stones” begins when the first narrator says
that he and a companion
are returning to Calcutta on a train. One of the
passengers is a strange
man who intrigues the first narrator and his
companion with the depth of
his knowledge about the world. To complete the trip
to Calcutta, the three
passengers must change trains at a stop on the
route. While they await
the next train in a station, the strange man tells
the other two men a
story. He thus becomes the second narrator. After
the train for Calcutta
arrives, the second narrator walks off and the first
narrator takes over
to complete the story.
story thus resembles a framed picture or painting.
The first narrator is
the frame, and the second narrator is the picture or
painting. Both narrators
present their stories in first-person point of view.
atmosphere of the second narrator's story is
bizarre, mysterious, and otherworldly.
returning to Calcutta from a religious pilgrimage,
the narrator and his
friend meet a strange man on the train. He can
converse intelligently on
any subject—even the most trivial—quoting from
science and poetry. So deep
is his knowledge that the narrator's friend, a
theosophist, thinks the
man receives inspiration from the supernatural, the
occult, or an astral
body. The narrator's friend begins taking notes, and
the man seems pleased.
getting off at a junction at 10 p.m. to change
trains, the travelers learn
that the next train will be considerably late. The
narrator prepares to
take a nap, but the strange man begins to tell a
story. The narrator, already
under the spell of the man, decides to stay up and
hear it. The story follows.
(The strange man will be referred to as the second
narrator; he tells his
story in first-person point of view.)
day, after quitting his job at Junagarh over a
disagreement on administrative
policy, the second narrator begins work as a
collector of cotton duties
at Barich, a pleasant locale. There, the Susta River
"chatters over stony
ways and babbles on the pebbles," flowing in from
the woods below hills.
One hundred fifty steps up from the river is a
marble palace. There are
no houses near it. The cotton market is some
two hundred fifty years before, the Emperor Mahmud
Shah II built the palace
“for his pleasure and luxury,” the second narrator
says. Its fountains
spurted rose water,
in its rooms young Persian girls would sing and
splash their feet in
the waters of the reservoirs. Now, however, only tax
collectors stay there.
Karim Kahn, an old clerk in the second narrator's
office, warns him never
to stay at the palace.
the day there if you like,” the clerk says, “but
never stay the night.”
thieves keep away from the place.
the warning, the second narrator decides to lodge
there. When he returns
from work at the end of the day, he finds the
solitude of the place almost
unbearable. After a week, he begins to feel as if
the palace is alive and
is “slowly and imperceptibly digesting me." He first
notices this feeling
one summer evening toward sunset when he is seated
on the steps gazing
at the scene before him. The Susta River is low, and
he can see the pebbles
at the bottom glistening. As the sun drops behind
the hills and the landscape
darkens, he hears a sound on the steps behind him.
When he rises and looks
around, no one is there. As he sits down again, he
hears a rush of footsteps
and thinks he sees maidens coming down the steps.
Although he knows that
no one is there but him, he clearly hears the
maidens running by him on
their way to the river.
they were invisible to me, so I was, as it were,
invisible to them."
is as if they are on the other side of a curtain.
Then a strong wind ripples
the waters and sweeps away the ghostly presence of
the morning, he looks upon the experience as a
“queer fantasy,” he says,
and goes to work. However, when he returns, he has a
feeling that the maidens
are there again. As he enters, he senses a rush of
beings leaving the palace
through windows and doors and corridors. But he sees
no one, although a
faint scent of perfume seems to be in the air.
Standing in a hall between
rows of pillars, he then hears the splash of
fountain water, the notes
of a guitar, the jingling and tinkling of ornaments
and chandelier pendants,
the ringing of bells sounding the hours, and the
singing of birds. Suddenly,
this strange world becomes reality and his workday
world at the cotton
market an illusion. Or so it seems.
supper, he goes to bed in a small room. Through a
window, he can see a
star peering down and falls asleep. He awakens later
as moonlight is stealing
into the room. Although he sees no one, he feels a
woman pushing him. She
waves a hand for him to follow her, and he does her
her in his mind as a girl with a veil on her face.
She stops before a blue
screen and points to a negro eunuch on the other
side. He sits dozing with
a sword on his lap. The girl lifts the screen, and
the the second narrator
sees part of a room with a Persian carpet. From a
bed, the feet of a woman
in pajamas reach to the carpet. A tray of fruit, two
cups, and a decanter
await the arrival of a guest. When the second
narrator enters this scene
and attempts to step over the eunuch's outstretched
legs, the eunuch awakens
and the sword falls to the floor. Then the second
narrator awakens to the
passes. During the day, the second narrator goes to
work, always tired
from his strange experiences of the night before.
But in the evening when
he returns, he looks forward to these experiences.
Repeatedly, he becomes
a person from an earlier age who takes part in
“unwritten history.” He
might be wearing an English coat, breeches, and red
velvet cap in anticipation
of a meeting with “the beloved one.” He might also
wander about the palace
to see what will happen to him next.
while dressing himself as a royal prince, he would
catch a glimpse of a
Persian beauty in the mirror. But in a moment she
would disappear. At such
times, he would go to bed and fall asleep as a
serpent entwined him.
evening, he decides to go for a ride on his horse.
But as he is about to
put on his English coat and hat, a powerful wind
enters and whirls them
around. He hears laughter and abandons the idea of
taking a ride. The next
day, he decides never again to wear the coat and
hat. In the evening, he
hears a woman crying out for him to rescue her by
breaking through “these
doors of hard illusion” and carry her away on a
wonders who she is, where she came from. He
envisions a Bedouin kidnapping
her from her mother and taking her to a slave
market, where a man buys
her for his master's harem. The master, a great
king, worships at her feet
while the eunuch with the sword stands nearby.
the second narrator awakens, he then decides that he
cannot stay another
night in the palace. So he packs his belongings and
moves to his place
of employment. In the evening, however, he ends up
back at the palace and
enters the dark silence. Two tear drops fall from
above on his brow. The
doors of the palace bang, and the hallways moan.
Next to the bed he has
been sleeping on, he perceives the presence of a
woman lying on the carpet
and tearing at her hair. She is sobbing. A storm
rages through the night.
The narrator wanders through the palace, wondering
who it is who is sobbing
with such intense grief and sorrow. When he is at
work, Karim Khan tells
one time countless
unrequited passions and unsatisfied longings and
lurid flames of wild blazing
pleasure raged within that palace, and that the
curse of all the heart-aches
and blasted hopes had made its every stone thirsty
and hungry, eager to
swallow up like a famished ogress any living man who
might chance to approach.
Not one of those who lived there for three
consecutive nights could escape
these cruel jaws save Meher Ali, who had escaped at
the cost of his reason.
Karim whether there
is anything he can do to break the spell of the palace
on him. The old
man says he knows a way, but first the second narrator
must listen to the
story of a young Persian girl who once lived in the
palace. However, at
the very moment that the second narrator is about to
tell the first narrator
and the theosophist what Karim said, the train to
Calcutta arrives. While
the travelers are picking up their bags, an Englishman
looking out the
window of a first-class car sees the second narrator
approaching. He calls
to him and invites him into his compartment. Because
the two travelers
must take a second-class car, they have no chance of
hearing the rest of
the story or finding out the identity of the second
first narrator tells the theosophist, "The man
evidently took us for fools
and imposed upon us out of fun. The story is pure
fabrication from start
to finish." The first narrator then tells the reader
that the "discussion
that followed ended in a lifelong rupture between my
main conflict in the fabricated story about the
palace is the cotton dealer's
desire to escape the spell of the palace while also
desiring to experience
its bizarre effects on him. In psychology, such a
dilemma is called an
approach-avoidance conflict. Everyone experiences
this kind of conflict
from time to time. For example, a person with an
aching tooth may wish
to undergo treatment that relieves his pain while
also wishing to avoid
treatment out of fear of a dentist's probing
climax occurs when the first narrator tells the
theosophist that the second
narrator's story was a fabrication.
human mind tends to accept the version of reality
that appeals to it. In
“The Hungry Stones,” Rabindranath Tagore centers on
the one hand, the cotton dealer (second narrator)
a fantastic but false version of reality. On the
other, the theosophist
readily accepts the cotton dealer's version because
it supports his philosophical
views. A theosophist is one who believes he can
attain knowledge of the
divine and the supernatural through intuitive
feelings. It makes sense
to the theosophist that the cotton dealer hears and
sees what is intangible.
the theosophist's companion observes at the end of
the story that the cotton
dealer's story is “pure fabrication from start to
finish,” the theosophist
refuses to accept this view and ends his friendship
with his companion.
philosophers, theologians, scientists and others
seeking to present reality
sometimes act like the theosophist in that they
wittingly or unwittingly
allow preconceptions and biases to affect their
cry of the insane man, Meher Ali, foreshadows the
ending, in which the
first narrator tells the theosophist that the second
narrator's tale is
a fabrication. Ali shouts, "Stand back! Stand back!!
All is false! All
boy in an office.
Form of poetry
used to express love
Butter from which milk solids have been removed. It
is used in cooking.
man who oversees a harem.
plant with the smell of roses.
device in which smoke in a tube cools while passing
through water; water
used by rulers of Hyderabad, India.
for transporting a passenger. It has a roof and
usually four poles projecting
horizontally, two in the front and two in the back.
Using these poles,
four bearers lift and carry the litter.
exercise or pilgrimage.
for rupees. A rupee is a monetary unit used in India
and other countries.
The abbreviation for a single rupee is Re.
A type of
Indian music for afternoon occasions.
the palace of a Muslim.
and one Arabian
Nights: Allusion to The Thousand and One
Nights (also called
Arabian Nights), a collection of stories from
Arabia, India, Persia,
and Egypt. A legendary queen, Scheherezade, tells
these entertaining stories,
including "Aladdin's Lamp," "Sindbad the Sailor,"
and "Ali Baba and the
are examples of figures of speech in "The Hungry
Stones." For definitions
of figures of speech, see Literary
do snow-white feet
of joyous maidens
coming down the steps
in the Susta
in that summer
heard the maidens'
of a spring gushing
in a hundred cascades
of the Susta
a sound was in the
the river, or in the palace,
to break the silence.
endless dark and narrow passages, what
long corridors, what
silent and solemn
audience-chambers and close secret cells I
a caress and many a kiss
and many a
tender touch of hands
horse swift as lightning
the sun sank behind the hill-tops a long dark
curtain fell upon the stage
darkness to a curtain and daytime to a stage
of the fair swimmers tossed the tiny waves up in
showers of pearl.
the water to showers of pearl
of ornaments and the tinkle
the clang of
bells tolling the hours
of my carriage
hear the gurgle
Questions and Writing Topics
first the solitude of the deserted palace
weighed upon me like a nightmare.
the effect of solitude to a nightmare
felt as if the whole house was like a living
organism slowly and imperceptibly
the house to a living thing
wafted away by the wind [the maidens] were
dispersed by a single breath
of the spring.
the maidens to a fragrance
ways in "The Hungry
Stones" similar to short stories by Edgar Allan
causes the rupture in the
friendship between the first narrator and the
you believe is the second
narrator's opinion of, or attitude toward, the
first narrator and the theosophist?
the religion of the