Of Human Bondage


Family, love, and friendships are a few of the many colorful threads that are taken and woven into a tapestry of life. Every person one meets on the way will influence the patterns of that tapestry. Every incident, be it tragic or cheerful, will guide the shuttle to take on new directions. With this in mind, William Somerset Maugham's autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage offers the reader a first person perspective on the first thirty years of a young man's life.
Philip Carey was born with a clubbed-foot. Many critics believe that this birth defect paralleled Maugham's own trouble with stammering. This handicap acted as a basis for all the anxiety and self-consciousness that shadowed Philip's life. As readers, we shadowed Philip as well, following him from childhood in England, to adulthood in Germany, adventures in Paris, and back to a village on the British coast. Together with Philip, we were drawn into a world of cynicism, passion, hatred, and the yearning to become someone greater.
In the beginning, innocence reigned. As a little boy who was just orphaned, Philip took everything in, not comprehending his situation. There was simplicity in his thoughts and naivete in his actions. He soon developed self-consciousness about his clubbed-foot, however, when he was sent to an all boys' school. He was endlessly humiliated by his fellow classmates and was treated differently by the teachers. When he did something wrong, the teacher would not cane Philip like he would any other wrong doer because Philip was a cripple. Having suffered years of shame and loneliness, Philip was truly grateful to finally make a friend. Rose was very popular with the boys. He was outgoing and whimsical, and Philip was honored to have Rose treat him as a normal person. There comes a time, unfortunately, in many friendships when one of the people involved becomes possessive. Philip became jealous of Rose's other friends, and in childish revenge, Philip made friends with Sharp, a boy whom he despised. It was Sharp who gave Philip the idea to go to Germany to study and experience the world. Philip wanted to get out of England so much that he began to slack off, and eventually, he threw away his scholarship to Oxford. In his teenage defiance, he learned independence. Out in the world, he met people who left lasting impressions in his personality. Being sensitive and inexperienced, Philip believed whatever the next person who came into his life believed. His uncle had taught him Christianity as a child, and Philip had faith in it. Hayward taught him that there was more to religion and that civilized people were poets and lovers, and Philip believed him. Cornshaw then gave him the idea that Christianity was just morality and those poets were dreamers, and Philip hated his uncle for instilling a rigid religion and believed that Hayward was living unrealistically. One of his biggest fears about disbelieving in God was that maybe he was wrong and that he was sinning by becoming an atheist. Then, in a rare burst of young wisdom, he decided that ?after all, it's not my fault. I can't force myself to believe. If there is a God after all and he punishes me because I honestly don't believe in Him I can't help it (104).? According to A. C. Ward, Maugham's ?effectiveness as a critic of life is in inverse proportion to his solemnity.? We might be shocked by some of the strong feelings that Philip felt, but Maugham knew this. He wanted Philip to be honest with himself and in doing so, he wanted to remind readers of the flaws in mankind.
John Lehmann once said, ?[Maugham's] originality, his power of holding the reader's attention, consists largely in putting conventional stories in exotic settings.? Maugham wrote of places sometimes with vehemence and sometimes with awe in order to pull readers in even more closer to Philip's own feelings. Philip traveled to many places in his life. We observed from the tidy, little house of his aunt and uncle and the crowded rooms of the school to the elegant and simple rooms of Germany and Paris that Philip's emotions were closely related to where he was. For example, with its massive furniture and clean-swept floors,