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Posted July 7, 2013
The short stories written by W. Somerset Maugham about the South Seas are some of his best work.Maugham searched for freedom in the islands of the South Seas. It was a longing that lived with him since his youth. He was seeking more than just material for his writing. One can visualize the environment and feel the love and the despair that exists within the environment and in the minds of his characters. Like Maughams own life,m the freedom of his characters were affected by circumstances beyond their control. For example, his short story "Rain" clearly shows the effect of the constant rain on the emotions of the characters. The rain has different meanings within the story. Maugham uses it as a means of expressing the invisible by the visible. One could be cleaned of sin by the rain and it could portray forgiveness. If you enjoy stories that show the contrast between beauty and ugliness, sanity and madness, or good and evil, you will enjoy this book.
Another element of Maugham's writing is that Maugham insists on the reader learning something of the historical background and the social conditions of the area where the action of the story is taking place. This seems to be especially true of the exotic stories that Maugham wrote in the South Seas. How does Maugham do this? One could infer that Maugham is compelled to detail the environment so that he can show the effect of British colonization, the discrepancy between the natives and 'civilized society', and the racial differences. In the story "Rain", the physical environment is a constant factor because when the rain has stopped, the threat of it starting up again is always there. A medical doctor, Dr. Alex Macphail is the narrator of the story. He is shown as a strong male character but one who is very timid and not assertive. Mr. and Mrs. Davidson are the missionary and his wife were not willing to associate with any other passengers but Mr. and Mrs. Macphail. Another passenger is Sadie Thompson, a prostitute leaving Honolulu after a raid. Due to a measles epidemic on the island of Pago-Pago, all of the passengers are not able to sail on to their destination. Dr. Davidson becomes obsessed with Sadie Thompson and wants her returned to Hawaii and the authorities.The rain pours down and adds to the sexual tension in the story. When the characters are closely confined, the differences in their social classes escalate and a power struggle develops between Miss Thompson and Mr. Davidson. Davidson has determined that she is sinful and must repent. Mrs. Davidson feels that the word of God and her husband are the law and that no one would have the audacity to go against them. Is it any surprise either Thompson or Davidson will have to be eliminated in the end? Someones throat is cut and someone survives. An amazing fact is that Maugham based his story on real facts and did not even bother to change the name of Miss Thompson. His other stories are just as dramatic. Enjoy and read all of his stories but especially the ones about the South Seas.
Barbara Hardee Wiggins, M.A.